St Albans’ pubs and restaurants claim they are being unfairly penalised by government restrictions on opening hours
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The district’s hospitality industry has condemned the government’s “one size fits all” restrictions on opening hours, claiming they are not to blame for the spike in Covid cases.
St Albans Independent Hospitality Group has demanded to see data proving the root cause of infections in the district.
The body, which represents more than 50 bars, pubs, restaurants and cafés in St Albans alone, said there had only been one reported case of Covid since the end of lockdown on July 4, with more than 150,000 customers served during that time.
The group said: “The efficacy of our independent hospitality group health and safety efforts is borne out by the evidence. To protect staff and customers, the hospitality group have been voluntarily compliant from the get go, with table service for the majority where feasible, PPE, signage, track and trace etc. “We would like to know the root cause/causal link of the St Albans district cases, as, on face value, it’s not from the independent hospitality industry.
“We also do not understand why the government is taking a one size fits all hard line approach with our independent hospitality industry, against the evidence. It seems to us the more common sense approach to safeguard both lives and the local economy would be to properly assess the causal links locally and set examples by closing down the channels that are not operating a safe work place.
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“Our wider independent hospitality businesses are very concerned with the stance central government is taking against the biggest industry In the country and one which is the life blood of our local economy.”
Restaurateur Andrei Lussman said: “We are edging closer to a national lockdown of hospitality and once again no clear plan of additional support available. This will depress trade and reduce revenues to unsustainable levels, lead to business failure and further job losses both locally in St Albans and across the county.
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“With only 5% of transmission cases resulting from hospitality, one cannot fathom why the industry is once again at the vanguard of destroying business with no evidence to support.
“Hospitality provides the social glue to our very existence and allowing its demise is another illustration of mad management from the top.
“We need to take care of the vulnerable whilst allowing schools to remain open, hospitals to function fully and the economy to surge, raising much needed tax receipts and most importantly preserving our personal sense of wellbeing.”
Mike Nuttall, owner of MUST Wine Bar in George Street, said: “We need to be planning positively now for both the 10pm early close and I would expect a further increased lockdown is now probably inevitable.
“There is no evidence provided whatsoever that the hospitality industry has caused the recent increase and therefore, by default, little improvement is expected over the coming weeks. We have lost 30 per cent of our covers, take 37 per cent of our revenues after 10pm and unfortunately the returning and new employees jobs are again at risk with no further financial support.
“However we traded and operated very successfully though lockdown and we will do the same again. We all just wish the full hospitality case was clearly understood and not simply used as an excuse for where the cases are really coming from.”
Sean Hughes, of Dylans, The Plough at Sleapshyde and The Boot, said: “The early closure will have a significant impact on Dylans as we would normally have two sittings. Without this two sittings our business model simply does not work.
“We have already lost the bar element of our business and this latest change of opening could see a further 30 per cent loss in revenue. The inconsistent message from our Government is unacceptable and we call on them for further financial support including the extension of the 5% VAT rate to 2022, zero business rates until 2022 and most importantly the extension of the furlough scheme for the next six months.
“Any further reduction or restrictions on our industry must be compensated so that we can all follow the guidelines and stay in business. I do not think it is unfair to ask for the support from the Government when they are asking us to support them to reduce infection.
“With only 5% of the infections occurring in the hospitality industry this only serves to scare people off at a time when we are open safely. We are currently working on our new online company, Dylans At Home, where you will be able to order food and packages to enjoy in the comfort of your home.”
Mandy McNeill from St Albans BID added: “Not one of the 50-plus hospitality businesses in St Albans have been contacted by NHS Track & Trace, so COVID-19 cases appear to have zero causal links to hospitality.
“We need to reinforce how important it is for people who think they might be sick to stay at home! They’re destroying livelihoods as well as putting others’ lives at risk.”