Leicester in limbo as lockdown returns
City has become the UK’s guinea pig after being placed into the first local quarantine, reports Tom Rees ‘We have some great pubs out in the county, but obviously crossing the border at the moment is a no’
‘Ihad a brewer who said ‘I’ve just made £8,000 of stock in advance of reopening on Saturday’. That stock does not have a two-week shelf life,” says Scott Knowles, head of the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce. Knowles has been frantically fielding calls from some of the 4,000 retailers, 239 restaurants, 182 pubs, 97 cafes, 26 hotels, five cinemas and countless other Leicester businesses that Altus data reveal will be facing at least two weeks of lockdown limbo.
“Business can’t turn on a penny – it needs time to plan and to sort out its stock, its staffing and all of those kinds of issues,” he says.
For many of the city’s businesses, their worst fears have been realised. After surviving the first lockdown, a second could be more than some can take. Leicester has become the country’s guinea pig after being placed into the first localised lockdown.
The new restrictions have posed many practical questions for businesses, but the Government has thus far had few answers. What happens to the thousands of pounds of stock that pubs and restaurants got in ahead of reopening? How can Leicester firms serve customers just over the new border? What happens to staff brought off furlough? And crucially – how long will the new measures last?
“We are really suffering on the lack of clarity,” says Jim Willis, co-owner of Framework Brewery, the city’s first craft beer producer. “On a local level, we were geared up and we were ready. This is a setback and there will be a lag afterwards.”
Willis has had no difficulties with stock but the brewer of beers – such as the lockdown-inspired We’ll Meet Again – instead faces a distribution dilemma brought on by new travel restrictions.
“It’s mainly distribution of the beer and the plans we had to distribute out to the county. We have some great pubs out in the county, but obviously crossing the border at the moment is a no.”
Under the city’s new rules, non-essential shops have been shut again, schools will close for most pupils from today and the reopening of pubs and restaurants on Saturday has been postponed. Only essential travel in and out of the city’s boundaries is advised.
Mike Ayres, boss of Advance Tapes International, has kept his adhesive tape manufacturing firm in Leicester running through lockdown but worries about the impact on the local business ecosystem from the latest measures. “The new lockdown will have a significant impact on a lot of small businesses around here – the coffee van that could come on site, the takeaways and pubs where people have been getting food from. For a lot of them, business will just dry up,” he says.
The Government is allowing firms in the city to re-furlough staff, but that is just one of many mounting costs.
Businesses are facing more lost custom, continued rental payments, difficult decisions on staff and costs from gearing up for their big reopening, such as stock and measures to protect workers and the public from the virus. Allowing firms to re-furlough workers in local areas could also become problematic when the scheme is wound down from August and ended in October. Areas that are put into local lockdowns without government support risk suffering deeper scarring from Covid-19. In addition, localised measures by their nature will also hurt small and medium-sized businesses more than big chains that can rely on custom from multiple areas.
Lauren Welch, the owner of Nada, a zero-waste and plastic-free grocery store in the city centre, says businesses in Leicester had “put so much time and effort into the run-up for July 4”.
“Restaurants have taken their staff off furlough, put money into stock and staff and they might have planned something big for reopening on Saturday. That is all going to go to waste.”
While her store can remain open as it is deemed essential, her location in the centre means footfall has dwindled as the shops, bars and restaurants nearby have closed. Extra support for local businesses is needed, say Welch and local leaders. “I don’t think Leicester is going to be the one and only – the Government needs something in place to be able to offer this support,” she says.
Knowles argues that the Government should compensate any costs associated with reopening for Leicester firms, while a local MP and the mayor have also called for more financial help.
Answers to the very practical questions businesses in Leicester are posing will be needed soon. Reports have suggested that other areas could follow it back into lockdown soon, including Bradford, Doncaster and some London boroughs.
Many businesses are already on the brink after the first lockdown, a disastrous second could tip them over the edge.
Additional reporting by Alan Tovey
After surviving the first lockdown, a second could be more than some businesses can take Retailers affected by Leicester lockdown Date the Government will review the measures The number of pubs, cafes and restaurants that will face at least two more weeks of closures in the city Proportion of all new Covid-19 cases that the city accounted for in the week before its lockdown was announced