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OPERATOR VOX POP: Restaurant and pub owners on what they love and hate about the Budget

Closed Greene King pub, Swan & Bottle, Uxbridge

Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday presented his 2021 Budget, which included a business rates holiday extension, VAT reduction and reopening grants for hospitality businesses. Here, restaurant owners from around the industry give their reaction.

Nick Mackenzie, chief executive, Greene King

“The Chancellor has a shown welcome support for the pub sector extending the VAT cut, business rates and furlough, as well as a freeze to alcohol duty. While the business rates extension will help our tenants and smaller businesses, the £2m cap from the end of June, just nine days after planned full reopening, means larger businesses will be denied millions of pounds in vital relief at a critical time. This makes it more important than ever that the government sticks to the timetable for reopening.

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“The Chancellor has placed the additional grants at the heart of his package of support for pubs, but it will make little difference if we are unable to access them due to State Aid Rules. We need government to clarify this urgently, and remove the cap to ensure all businesses can benefit.”

Lawson Mountstevens, managing director, Star Pubs & Bars

“We welcome the package of support for hospitality announced in today’s budget including the freeze in beer duty. Continuing the 5% VAT rate until September and further business rates relief together with the new Restart Grant scheme provides a much-needed lifeline to an industry on its knees. We’ve done all that we can to help our licensees through the pandemic – investing nearly £50 million in rent reductions.

“It is good to see the Chancellor step up and provide additional support for pubs who are the beating hearts of their communities the length and breadth of the UK, and we hope today’s announcement paves the way for future alcohol duty and business rates reform to help our sector longer-term.”

Patrick Fawley, owner, East London Pub Co.

“Businesses need to be propped up properly so that they can restart and create meaningful and long term employment. I am relieved by the news of the extension of the reduced local authority rates and very much welcome that VAT remains low. Whilst the Restart grants are beneficial, they pale into insignificance when offset against the huge losses of the last 12 months. The public perception is that business owners have loads of support through the furlough scheme, but in reality the level of business support to owner operators is far less than in Ireland or France.

“The extension of the furlough scheme is welcome but it is a sticking plaster. The furlough system needs reviewing so employers can take on staff confident in the knowledge that they’ll be supported if another lockdown happens. We’d like to open three more pubs this year, but we need this reassurance. We opened a pub in Soho just before the first lockdown but because it had only been open a couple of weeks the 51 new employees weren’t eligible for furlough, which was devastating for them.

“Local Authorities also need to do their bit and work with local businesses to support and create jobs. We’re currently in negotiation with Tower Hamlets to takeover a carpark to create outdoor space next to our Spitalsfield pub, The Gun, but engagement is poor and they want to charge an exorbitant amount. We all need to work together to revive the economy.”

Jeremy Simmonds, co-founder and co-CEO of competitive socialising, Swingers 

The budget was largely as predicted. The big news is the extension of the furlough scheme, which is welcomed by many. However I can’t help but feel that the scheme has masked the deep pain and unfair treatment suffered by the UK hospitality industry during the pandemic. Our business has traded for about two months out of the last year and the government support has been wholly inadequate.

“As an industry we have overwhelmingly supported the need to protect public health. My business is one of the lucky ones with supportive investors, however for the vast majority of businesses, without further investment, far beyond anything offered to date by the government, sadly they will fail. The reality is that the vast sums invested in the furlough scheme will, due to the lack of comprehensive business support, only have served to delay job losses. To protect jobs the government needs to protect the underlying businesses that provide the jobs.”

Mohammad Paknejad, Cofounder, Nutshell Covent Garden

“Unfortunately, the budget announcement did not fully live up to the expectations and the hype generated by the Chancellor. As encouraging as it was to see him extending the VAT cut; it was very disappointing that he decided against extending the business rate holiday for another year.

“As he admitted himself in his speech in the Parliament; the hospitality and tourism sectors have been hit very hard and without further support from the government; many businesses might not be able to survive the effects of the pandemic. The sector is in desperate need of representation in the cabinet and it’s not clear as to why the government and the Prime Minister are refusing to understand this.”

Marcos Fernandez, MD Iberica Restaurants and Arros QD

“The Conservative party has shown a strong support for business, which I am sure is a challenge with the ever growing debt that we are accumulating. The extension of the furlough will allow the labour flexibility needed as consumer confidence is recovered. It is also long enough to allow for the still uncertain short term.

“A slightly longer extension to Business Rates would have been welcomed to build up the cash reserves necessary to be able to honour our lease payment terms, which bring me to the still ongoing problem of rents due which hang over many businesses which have not been tackled and will ultimately make viable businesses fail through the cash flow when the legal containment is lifted.

“Associating help to renovate high streets for institutional landlords in exchange for common agreed terms to tenants would have been very welcome. An increase in local environmental officers to open early businesses which have certified safe conditions could kick start the industry and allow a more focus approach to helping businesses.”

Stuart Procter, COO The Stafford Collection

“I think the extension of the furlough scheme is terrific and will certainly assist moving forward, as we begin to slowly open up the businesses. With regards to the VAT cut extension and cut in business rates, of course that is of huge help to us, however it would have been far more useful to have this running throughout the whole of 2021.

“Our London venues in particular will take a long time to get back to the same levels of trade as seen in early 2020 as they are so dependent on international travel. We’ve got a long way to go, however it’s great to see support continuing from the Government as we hopefully come out the end of this crisis.

Luke French, Co-Founder JÖRO Restaurants Sheffield

“The duty on fuel, beer, cider wine being frozen is great news for suppliers/producers in getting the supply chain back in motion. Restart grants are welcome also at up to £18,000 presumably relative to business rates again as per previous grants. This is crucial to covering overheads in the coming months with significant concern following April 12th when outdoor hospitality can re-open and indoor remaining closed. Take out/click and collect business models may be impacted initially here.

“VAT at 5% until September – again would like to see this relative to restrictions being removed. If not, then a review of this on longer term is required. It is very welcome, however, during closure and reduced capacity opening. Business rates until June – should be on the basis of social contact restrictions being lifted – with distancing in place venues are running at 50% capacity. So even a percentage payable would be a better outlook should restrictions still be in place. Surely this needs to be tightened as to which sectors are entitled to use this also. A review into abuse of grants & furlough scheme should be undertaken also to fully understand the actual cost of Covid.”

 

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Andrew Seymour

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