Sheffield's hospitality sector criticises Government support and 'wishy washy' advice
Hospitality businesses in Sheffield have criticised the Government’s support as they struggle to cope with the impact of the surge in Omicron Covid cases.
Today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak offered a £1 billion support package to businesses hit by Covid restrictions amid concerns over the “eye-wateringly high” transmission of the Omicron variant.
He was widely criticised for ‘dragging’ his feet over the announcement, which came after days of lobbying from businesses and politicians, who called for a financial buffer amid ‘wishy washy’ official advice.
The package announced today includes one-off grants of up to £6,000 per premises for businesses in the affected sectors in England, which the Treasury expects will be administered by local authorities and to be available in the coming weeks.
But many independent business owners believe what has been offered is not enough, and say the details are unclear.
Theresa Damahi at Otto's Restaurant on Sharrow Vale Road is one of these.
She said: “The statement today by Rishi Suak was very brief and details are incredibly thin on the ground.
"Obviously it’s welcome that there will be some acknowledgement that businesses are suffering from a real drop in trade. He compares the level of support to what was offered during lockdown but he has remember that in hospitality you cannot operate on zero stock or staff – when we were in lockdown all those costs were not being generated. We weren’t wasting food and furloughing costs were covered.
"It’s welcome that there is some level of support. But if it is similar to previous schemes it will be calculated on rateable value, so out of £6,000 I believe we would get between £3,000 and £4,000, which represents – pre-pandemic – what we would usually make in a week of trade in profit in December.
"It’s also on top of expenses we have already incurred this season. And in January and February it’s not uncommon in the industry to only break even.”
Otto’s is one of the scores of hospitality businesses in Sheffield that have been among the most seriously affected by Boris Johnson’s advice to people to limit social contact, while at the same time saying businesses can remain open.
Businesses in the city criticised the Government’s lack of leadership, and reflected on its impact on trade in recent weeks.
Charlotte Ross, a worker for the Bhaji Shop at Hagglers Corner in Lowfield said: "Inevitably people have cancelled due to Covid-19, which is their right to do so, but it’s difficult when work parties of 70 people have to pull out at the last minute after doing prep.
"The Government have been wishy washy with their messaging. ‘You can go out, but you shouldn’t’. It’s just not clear cut. But unfortunately as an industry we’re used to it by now, nothing is really surprising at this point.
"And why should we listen to them when these photos are emerging showing them doing whatever they like?”
Other businesses spoke to The Star but wished not to be identified publicly. One pub said the uncommitted messaging from the Government made them wary of tapping barrels of ale in case they then went to waste, and they were struggling to plan orders for stock.
Others said they needed more details on the scheme to make a judgement on if it would help.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said Labour “will be going through the details” of the new financial measures, adding that the Government had been “dragged kicking and screaming” to announce them.
Meanwhile, some in the sector praised the support of their customers, who they said gave them hope in spite of the Government’s approach.Assistant manager Ellen Belle at the Broadfield in Nether Edge said: “We’re really lucky. We’ve been supported by a good number of regulars despite having a much quieter week that what we expected.
"It’s definitely down to people being cautious about socialising. We have a busy restaurant but we’ve seen a noticeable drop off in walk-in trade, and we’ve had a few cancellations due to self-isolating and personal reasons.
"We’ve had enquiries about Christmas as early as August.
"We put in the orders for stock for Christmas today – it’s a case of wait and see.
"I try not to think about as I would rather just be prepared. I still feel lucky and am excited to have people in.”
Yesterday, (December 20), South Yorkshire Mayor Dan Jarvis called on the Government to provide funding for businesses hit by Covid.
Mr Jarvis said: “The Prime Minister has already urged greater caution, and people are voting with their feet. It’s simply not right that business and individuals already suffering the effects of almost two years of disruption should have to endure what amounts to a soft lockdown in the critical run-up to Christmas without any support.
"That support could take many forms - but they need to get a shift on.
“We need to explore every avenue to avoid further restrictions. But if we really are left with no other choice, the government has got to follow the science - and they need to put in place support so individuals can afford to follow the guidance and to cushion the blow to the economy.”
Alongside the £6,000 support, the Government also intends to use taxpayers’ cash to cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for firms with fewer than 250 employees.
Cultural organisations in England can also access a further £30 million funding during the winter via the culture recovery fund, the Treasury said.
Mark Davyd, founder and chief executive of Music Venue Trust, said: “We will need to see further details on the £30 million package announced to support the cultural sector.
“Our initial response is that this funding seems detached from the reality.
“If correct, it would be inadequate to deal with the scale of the problem."