Lockdown: Firms give cautious welcome to reopening timetable

Lockdown: Firms give cautious welcome to reopening timetable

A number of businesses will be able to reopen from 12 April if conditions are met, the Prime Minister has announced.

The news has prompted relief across the business community, although many sectors warn they remain under severe financial pressure.

“We are delighted to have some dates to work towards at last,” skincare maker Gareth McKeever told the BBC.

He and wife Claire hand-make Pure Lakes Skin Care products at a workshop in the Lake District.

They supply hotels and shops, as well as sell online, but lost four-fifths of their business during lockdown, so have been desperate for some certainty about the future so they can plan.

“Although our online sales have been a Godsend during lockdown, 80% of our business is supplying hospitality and non-essential retail, and that disappeared almost overnight,” said Mr McKeever.

“We may still have some time to wait before these customers can reopen but at least we can now start to plan ahead and prepare.”

He added that for a small, family-run business with limited access to third-party finance, “uncertainty is a huge obstacle” to buying raw materials and maintaining stock levels, let alone future growth plans.

“It is a big relief that we now have something to work towards.”

Restaurants and non-essential retailers have given a cautious welcome to the roadmap with its offer of hope of reopenings.

Mark Smith, marketing adviser for the Franzos chicken chain in the south east of England, said the news was a relief.

“It is great to hear the announcement today, a clear roadmap with restaurants allowed to allow customers to dine-in again inside in May,” he told the BBC.

“We, as does the wider hospitality industry, welcome this decision and can’t wait to welcome customers back.”

Ian Watson, chief executive of Hotter Shoes in Lancashire, is pleased but cautious: “It’s good to see a route map for the reopening of non-essential retail, however I worry it is still lacking in confirmed dates and reliant on many ifs and buts.”

He said retailers will need to understand the confirmed dates and criteria they are working to, “not only so that we can prepare the business internally, but in order to care for our staff and our suppliers effectively.

“Our retail staff have been in limbo for the majority of the past 12 months, and now need clarity on when they will be returning to work.”

Other business sectors have welcomed the possibility of starting up again, but have warned that they will need more help to survive.

Having some certainty will help the events industry, said Matthew Shaw, creative director at events company Sauveur.

“The events and weddings industries have been crying out for a clear framework from which to build. At long last, this roadmap offers some much-needed visibility and guidance,” he said. But he warned that it is only the first step.

“The second summer season decimated by the pandemic will not be easy,” said Mr Shaw.

“It’s vital that the Budget includes extensive support for freelancers and the self-employed, a clear plan for small businesses, and a substantial commitment to the events industry.”

Sarah Haywood, spokesperson for the UK Weddings Taskforce, warned that 400,000 jobs in the industry remain at risk.

“It is disappointing that for the next four months we will only gradually get to 30 guests permitted at a wedding. This is simply unviable for most businesses,” she warned.

“The infrastructure at the heart of our sector is close to collapse and until weddings can proceed normally, 400,000 jobs across 60,000 businesses remain in jeopardy.”

The hospitality sector is also on a knife-edge, said UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls.

“The sector is devastated that its reopening will be so far away. From the start of November, the sector will have been closed for nearly 200 days, with just a couple of weeks of heavily-restricted trading in December,” she said.

“A major package of financial support is imperative if hospitality is to survive.”

The gym sector too will need support, said Neil Randall, chief executive of Anytime Fitness UK.

“Today’s announcement is a positive step and we acknowledge that leisure and gym facilities been given next priority after education and outdoor sport,” said Mr Randall.

“However, we urge the chancellor to provide a comprehensive relief package for our sector which was endured over eight months of closure in the past twelve months.”

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