‘They keep on saying we have had the best support in the UK... nonsense’
PEOPLE running hospitality businesses in Wales are crying out for clarity from the Welsh Government over the reopening of their livelihoods.
Last Monday, hospitality businesses in England were able to reopen outdoors for the first time in 2021.
However in Wales, businesses are not allowed to reopen until April 26.
This has caused much frustration among people in the industry but it is not the only source of their anger. There is also a perception that, despite the Welsh Government claiming to have the most comprehensive support for businesses in the UK, that they have moved the goal posts by not announcing new funding after March 31. Business owners also say that, unlike in England
and Scotland, there are no reopening grants to help businesses with initial expenses like purchasing stock.
On top of this many owners say that there is a lack of clarity over what the rules will be when they reopen meaning that they are not sure if it is even viable.
Jon Bassett owns several pubs including the Queens Vaults and Four Elms in Cardiff.
“They keep on saying we have had the best support in the UK which is nonsense,” he said.
“We do not have the rules/conditions for opening on April 26 and if it will be viable. It seems Welsh Government thinks hospitality can be run like the pubs on TV soaps.
“We do not know if we will have the same rules as England which will work for us (weather permitting). If the rules on tables for instance are one household and a support bubble it would not be viable.
“Many operators will now have to make a very difficult choice in ordering stock which will need paying for and then finding out they will not be in a position to open. This could be crippling and the final straw for many. Even opening outside with the England rules are a gamble if the weather takes a turn for the worst.”
Mr Bassett is also frustrated at the differences between Wales and England.
The amount of people I saw on our social media going over the bridge yesterday to spend their coin was staggering,” he said. “Surely this is counterproductive? All in all I think a great industry has been terribly treated.”
Nick Newman from Cardiff Licensees Forum echoed this. He said: “Like others, I have found Welsh Government to be slow in acting and utterly lacking in clarity when dealing with our sector. I am also aware of the dismissive way that our sectors’ views are treated even of those whom the Welsh Government chooses to invite to its hospitality call meetings.
“First Minister Mark Drakeford casually said ‘it’s only two weeks’ when referring to the difference between the relaxation of lockdown rules as they apply in England and Wales.
“Mr Drakeford should understand that, with all that business owners and members of staff (both retained and contract) have gone through, another two weeks could see the terminal failure of yet more pubs, bars and clubs.
“You only have to look at what happened to SA Brain - national brewer of Wales - to understand what a catastrophic effect the last 56 weeks have had on businesses and livelihoods.”
In response to these concerns, we collated the questions from people in the industry, including Simon Wright from the Welsh Independent Restaurant Collective, and put them to the Welsh Government.
These questions included:
■ Why was the Business Wales wording on the cash grants changed to run into April/May when it was previously stated it was up to March 31? This has and will lead to many businesses running out of cash.
■ Currently thinking that the reopening will be two households and maximum of six people to attend – is this the case?
■ Is the First Minister going to bring opening inside forward to be in line with England on May 17, then social distancing removed on June 26?
■ Pubs, restaurants and cafes in Wales and their representatives are unanimous in their view that the last round of financial assistance was to cover costs to the end of March 2021. These are hard pressed businesses who will have looked closely at this given the financial gymnas
tics they are having to perform in order to survive. Are you really saying they all got this wrong?
■ How do you account for the fact that all locally authority correspondence and website info referred to covering costs to March 31 and that narrative only changed on March 26 when the Business Wales website was changed without any other communication with the sector, to reflect the new narrative?
■ If there is money allocated to the sector to be distributed after the election why not support businesses now when they most need it?
■ Many suppliers are now asking for cash upfront, deferred VAT is becoming payable and recruitment needs to take place but businesses have no idea how they will pay the staff. In the absence of any clarity on the scale and scope of that funding how do you expect businesses to deal with banks and creditors in the meantime?
■ Why at a time when the industry is planning to reopen with all the associated costs have you cut off funding? Where are the restart grants currently being distributed in Scotland and England?
■ You consistently say that Welsh Government support is unprecedented and the best in the UK. But the sector says that when you take into account the extra month in total that Welsh businesses have been closed in comparison to England and the stricter restrictions in Wales (in particular the 2m rule) that have significantly suppressed turnover when businesses have been open, that is not the case. How do you respond to that claim?
■ How will TTP work? Will every customer have do it? Is it per table? Per household?
■ Why were the latest grants only for businesses employing 10 people or more?
The Welsh Government did not respond to each question individually and sent a substantial statement instead where they stressed that they had delayed the reopening in order to get people back into education.
A Welsh Government spokesman said: “We have set out a series of measures to relax restrictions through April and May, subject to public health conditions being favourable. We continue to take a careful stepby-step approach.
“We have made unprecedented levels of funding available to support Welsh businesses during these incredibly challenging times, with a full 12 month rates holiday package until March 2022 for those in the hardest hit sectors. To date we have provided more than £2bn in business support during the pandemic, safeguarding 165,000 Welsh jobs.
“Our comprehensive package of financial support for Welsh businesses will continue throughout April and into May. Many businesses will already have received their full share of the £180m funding announced in midMarch upfront to see them through until May, for others, including in the hospitality and tourism sector, cash grants will continue to be paid during April as applications are confirmed.
“Businesses will therefore see no interruption in the flow of financial support, as we move cautiously to relax public health restrictions.
“Another £200m in additional support for business has already been earmarked in the Final Budget 2021-22. Ministers have had a constructive meeting with representatives from the hospitality sector and Welsh Government officials will work with them on options for a further support package to be put to the new Government following May’s Senedd election.
“A pub, hotel or restaurant in Wales with 10 staff would have been entitled to £45,000 in Welsh Government support since December to see them through from December onwards. This is on top of our business rates relief scheme which runs until March 2022 and UK Government support to cover staff costs.
“The Business Wales website was updated to provide further clarity on the £180m support package to help businesses cover costs following the announcement of extended restrictions in March. As a source of information for businesses the website is regularly updated. Discussions also took place with the sector.
“Welsh Government is working with the sector to agree guidance on reopening. Further details on any changes to restrictions will be announced at the next review of the regulations.
“The £30m sector specific fund announced on 3rd March provided targeted support for small, medium and large businesses in the hospitality, leisure and tourism sectors with 10 or more staff in order to help cover their costs. This was part of a combined £180m support package for businesses affected by extended restrictions. The broader £150m was not dependent on staff numbers and included increased funding for the smallest micro businesses.
“The Welsh Government has prioritised the full reopening of education ahead of hospitality. Since Monday, all children and students in Wales have been able to return to face-to-face education, including on university campuses in Wales.”
Mr Drakeford should understand that, with all that business owners and members of staff (both retained and contract) have gone through, another two weeks could see the terminal failure of yet more pubs, bars and clubs NICK NEWMAN FROM CARDIFF LICENSEES FORUM