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’

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‘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

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