Mike Anderson, Managing Director of trade show organiser Hale Events, asks “Will the Government’s latest ‘dose of medicine’ to keep Covid at bay actually work – or will it simply succeed in killing off the patient?”
There was a time when medics would prescribe cocaine for anything from toothache to impotence; heroin was a go-to cure for a cough; while a good old-fashioned lobotomy was regularly recommended for mental illness.
All, thankfully, are now recognised as treatments that actually did more harm than good.
Which brings me to the latest round of restrictions announced by the Prime Minister on 22 September: in his words a ‘robust but proportionate’ response to rising Covid infections. While I won’t argue too much with ‘robust’ I have to take issue with ‘proportionate’ – particularly as regards the hospitality and events sectors.
Yes, decisive action needs to be taken if we are to stave off a second wave; but early closing for restaurants and bars, extending the use of face masks and table service only for food… along with eye-watering fines for those that fail to comply… all of these will simply (to borrow a now well-worn cliché) hammer another nail in the coffin of thousands of businesses which haven’t already shuffled off their mortal coil.
If pubs and restaurants were really the culprit in the spike in numbers it would be one thing. All the evidence appears to suggest that the biggest causes of the two latest spikes have been the return of students to schools and then to universities – where no new restrictions are being recommended.
As has been widely commented, there is nothing sinister or dangerous that happens in a pub or restaurant after 10 o’clock that doesn’t happen before that rather arbitrary cut-off point. Some customers will simply look to get their eating and drinking done during a shorter time slot, with everyone consequently leaving at the same time – the reverse of what the new edicts intended to achieve – while stricter mask rules will put many off from going out at all.
The net effect will be an even bigger dent in revenues for businesses already on their knees. For those serving meals, closing early could wipe 50% off potential revenues… and many are already operating on a severely reduced number of covers to accommodate social distancing.
All the way through this crisis, Ministers have intoned that they are simply “following the science” before making decisions. But how does that tally with the fact that, as Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, has said: “It is hard to understand how these measures are the solution to fighting the disease when Government data shows that just five percent of infections out of the home are related to hospitality.”
Hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake in the hospitality sector with this new round of restrictions, with nearly 23% of pubs, bars and restaurants saying that they expect to fold within three months without a financial package for the sector, according to a survey commissioned by the British Beer & Pub Association, UK Hospitality and the British Institute of Innkeeping. Many thousands more jobs in the events and conferences industry are also on a knife-edge: hopes had been high that these could re-start from October, but that now looks increasingly unlikely.
The events we are closely involved in (such as the Source trade show and Expowest Cornwall) act as a vital conduit for food and drink suppliers to do business with hotels, pubs and restaurants. Many of these suppliers have already taken a big hit this year… more restrictions could see a host of speciality providers closing their doors for good: another example of the domino effect currently laying waste to jobs and the economy.
If the Government is looking for a cure to rising Covid numbers, may I politely suggest that they’re looking in the wrong place.
Hale Events Ltd