Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget on 3 March is likely to complement Boris Johnson’s “cautious but irreversible” lockdown reopening plan, which currently looks set to leave restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars closed to dine-in until May. The chancellor is joining the prime minister in prioritising the need to “avoid a stop-start” reopening, in which restaurants and pubs again oscillate between open and closed, according to the Guardian.
With Sunak’s plans reportedly focussed on “protecting jobs,” extensions to the furlough scheme, business loans scheme, and support for businesses for whom a cautious reopening means retaining restrictions that necessarily limit their income are widely expected. For some restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars, receiving news of financial support on 3 March will be too late. Arriving 28 days before the cut on VAT, business rates relief, and — for now — eviction protections expire, some businesses will be forced to lay off staff or close on the assumption that extensions to those policies are not coming.
It might appear strange to comment on the alignment of two government departments in an unprecedented national crisis. But the dovetailing of Sunak’s commitment to having as much of the economy open as possible with Johnson’s (apparently curtailed) pathological need to over-promise freedoms has been disastrous for hospitality at various junctures. The 10 p.m. curfew and “substantial meals” rules had little epidemiological impact relative to their restrictions on income, and left businesses caught between Sunak’s desire to reduce debt (by having fewer businesses fully closed and eligible for grants) and Johnson’s desire to still let people go to the pub.
But now the vaccine — and the promise of a permanent route out of lockdowns and social distancing if its impact on transmission is positive — appears to have pushed Sunak towards “reopen once, reopen fully.” Restaurants, pubs, cafes, and bars might say that this is, and always has been, the obvious position to take; that it could have been taken earlier and even without a vaccine, to avoid the bouncing between open and closed of November and December 2020. But they may also be gently, if cautiously heartened that at crunch time, the two most powerful influences on their future appear to be finally on the same page.