On Wednesday, London’s restaurants planning their reopening after lockdown learned that government will extend three of the key coronavirus support measures which have kept businesses open and workers with a percentage of their wage over the last twelve months.
Following prime minister Boris Johnson’s lockdown reopening roadmap, chancellor Rishi Sunak used his Budget to announce that the furlough scheme would run until September and that two key tax breaks would be extended for six months. Without them, restaurants and the staff that make them what they are would have been foundering. The progress of the vaccine roll-out seems to have given the government the ability to offer more clarity that any point during the pandemic; if last week’s reopening plan was the “roadmap,” then its budget was the fuel for the car that restaurants need to get to where they are going — three key dates: 12 April, 17 May, and 21 June.
Eater asked restaurateurs and chefs what they made of the Budget and if they’d expected more from it. Across the board, they welcomed the extensions to furlough, the 5 percent VAT rate, and a continuation of the business rates holiday; they welcomed the clarity and seemed to feel that the support measures were commensurate to the losses they are likely to endure in the weeks before they’re able to reopen.
But concern remains that unless the government presents its plan for solving hospitality’s rent problem soon, then the measures will be rendered irrelevant. They also bank on the roadmap delivering on the Prime Minister’s promise: that it is “irreversible.”
This is how they reacted.
Mandy Yin, Sambal Shiok, Nasi Economy Rice
“I expect that this is the best we’re going to get in terms of help with the rent debt mountain...!
“I’ve resigned myself to restructuring the offering at Nasi and Sambal Shiok later on this year to hopefully increase income to enable to settle the rent debt in due course. A lot of the grant coming to Nasi will be used to carry out improvement and refurbishment work in order to put it in a better position after the summer.
“[It’s] good for business indeed [thumbs up emoji] gives us all a fighting chance!”
Victor Lugger, Big Mamma
“We have been closed for nearly a year, a grant isn’t going to make up for it.
“Especially one that equates to only up to £18,000 per business. It is one thing to care for hospitality, another thing to care for London hospitality. We have extremely high rents, being one of the most expensive cities in the world, and there has been no long-term government protection, and zero offer to help with landlord negotiations.”
Chantelle Nicholson, Tredwell’s
“Budget: good to see VAT [cut] extension although I would have liked it to be until the end of the year at 5 percent. Plus I think there should have been some relief for [pubs] too, even if just a reduction to 15 percent on booze.
“Rates was disappointing — it’s going to be a blow for many to have to start paying something from July.
“And the silence on rent is challenging. It’s the biggest issue that seems to just be ignored.
“Furlough extension positive.”
Phil Bracey, Bright, P. Franco, Peg
“On the face of it I’m pretty positive about it, seems generous and seems like a they want those still going to continue to keep going. All of this is with a grain of salt as a rent moratorium extension would be the final piece of the missing puzzle [...] that will be disastrous for the industry if its not addressed.
“Most important aspect for us is probably the reduced VAT on food extension, however the grant and reduced business rates are all super positive moves. Just knowing what we need to plan for is welcome [...] the extension of the flexi-furlough scheme until September creates a little more security...
“Overall I’m positive moving forward, have to be, for me and for my staff, no where near out of the woods yet but hopefully we’re armed with the right tools to get there soon!”
Jyotin Sethi, JKS Restaurants
“Overall positive, better than I expected, some clarity needed on business rates relief cap, JRS bonus [£1,000 payment which was due to be paid out in January] etc. But if they had told us beforehand that’s what will be included, we would have taken it.”
Trevor Gulliver, St. John
“Keeping to the hospitality sector issues: not good and bad, but more good and nothing. Furlough — good, but already proving critically expensive for some; rates good but why not 100 percent and the delivery of a new scheme; ditto VAT, hospitality should be always at 5 percent for a level footing .......”
Dan Morgenthau, Quality Chop House and Woodhead Restaurants
“My initial reaction is positive. On some of the key issues that matter most to the hospitality industry right now — VAT, business rates, grants and furlough — the government clearly acknowledges the need to keep support going and to avoid the ‘cliff edge’ that those within the sector have warned of. This support will undoubtedly help businesses like us as we return (hopefully) to some semblance of normality in the coming months.
“There are a couple of areas that I’d like to explore in more detail: The two thirds discount on business rates from June, the time at which our restaurants will be returning to full capacity for the first time in 15 months. And clearly rent arrears remain a huge burden for most businesses within the sector, and one that the above measures alone will not resolve.
“Finally, given that most of the measures announced today presuppose a full reopening of the economy and society by the end of June, I’d be worried if we started to see delays to the roadmap and it looked like some of the support would be tailing off at a time when social distancing restrictions remained in place.”