Watch the webinar
- Ceri Thomas, Editor and Partner, Tortoise Media (Chair)
- Josh Hardie, Deputy Director-General, CBI
- Pat Ritchie, Chief Executive, Newcastle City Council
- Kate Nicholls, CEO, UKHospitality
Big developments this week
The situation now feels very different to six months ago. According to Josh Hardie, the CBI’s Deputy-Director General, there have been two areas in which we’ve seen good progress. Firstly, in terms of building flexibility into the government’s financial support, namely on the Job Support Scheme (JSS), grants, and the Job Retention Bonus (JRB). The second is the tiered system, which the CBI has been asking for. But, according to Josh, there are three areas where we’re pushing for improvement: communication, clarity of evidence, and financial support.
Firstly, on communication, there hasn’t been enough. Too often, businesses and local leaders have found out about changes too late, and indirectly – such as through social media. Josh accepted that we’re moving at pace, but the transparency must improve, because ineffective communication leads to disagreement and debate, and damages business confidence and compliance. Secondly, clarity of the evidence must improve, particularly on two key areas: the 10pm curfew, and rapid testing. There may be good reasons for these decisions, but without the evidence, it’s harder for people to buy in. Finally, in terms of financial support, there simply isn’t enough financial support for those businesses who have had to shut down through circumstance (not decree). We know there isn’t endless money available, but the government can improve.
The current picture in Newcastle
Newcastle has been subject to the middle tier restrictions for three weeks now, so they’re a bit ahead of the curve on that level of restrictions. And according to Pat Ritchie, the Chief Executive of Newcastle City Council, there is some evidence that this action is starting to bring numbers down. Newcastle is currently at around 467 cases per 100,000, which is high compared to the rest of the country. But that number was at 503 per 100,000 a couple of weeks ago.
In terms of hospital care, Pat added, the area is not seeing anything like the amount of pressure on the NHS that they had during the first wave. But of course, that situation could change. They’re also not seeing the numbers passing into the older population in the same way as last time, and the situation in case homes is better than before. But they are seeing big effects on the economy. The rules around no household mixing has meant restaurants and pubs have seen big drop-offs in business. There’s also been a knock-on impact on retail, with less people coming into the city centre.
Communication, clarity of evidence, financial support
According to Kate Nicholls, the CEO of UKHospitality, the government could do better on communication, clarity of evidence, and financial support. Communication, for example, has been very limited. It’s just not helpful for businesses to find out about changes indirectly, as it puts them into the position where they have to make people redundant. At an early stage, at least, it’s not about the detail, but just a heads up that something is coming. Kate feels there’s been a total disconnect between health measures, financial support, and the announcement of changes – and it’s vital these are joined up.
Finally, Kate added, it’s vital we have a route map for getting out of this situation. At the moment, we don’t know what triggers an area to go up and down the tiers. Many areas have been left in limbo, with some in local lockdowns since July. It’s the feeling of ‘no end in sight’ that’s a real killer for business confidence.
The issue of compliance
According to Kate, broadly, compliance in the hospitality sector is high. UKHospitality’s surveys found 92% of respondents felt the current protocols are restrictive, but necessary. Of course, in an industry with many independent, small businesses, you’ll always have compliance issues. But UKHospitality are working with local authorities to root out poor practice.
Kate added that public compliance is a key problem with the 10pm curfew. As soon as you eject people from well-regulated, well-run licensed premises, you get situations like we saw in Liverpool. People just don’t want to go home, and hospitality businesses can’t manage that situation. Kate drew an interesting comparison to the first lockdown here, in that it was enforced by consent rather than policing. Once you lose consent, it becomes impossible to regulate behaviour. Josh added that he thinks businesses have done a great job in making themselves COVID-secure – because that’s within our control. But we need to ensure that this anger and social fragmentation we’re seeing doesn’t stay with us long after the pandemic ends.