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Night time businesses cautiously welcome government review of social distancing rules, while Chancellor’s comments on support gaps criticised

By | Published on Monday 15 June 2020

Night Time Industries Association

The Night Time Industry Association has welcomed an announcement by the UK government that it is reviewing whether the two metre social distancing rule needs to stay in place when hospitality businesses re-open next month. However, it says that those businesses need as much prior notice as possible on what the rules will be so that they can make the necessary preparations.

Although the UK government is slowly relaxing the COVID-19 shutdown – with non-essential retailers allowed to open again today in England – people are still currently being urged to stay two metres apart from each other, and high street businesses need to ensure that that is possible on their premises.

However, pubs and restaurants – which should be able to re-open at the start of next month – say that the two metre rule means they will have to reduce capacity to such an extent that their businesses will no longer be viable. Some have argued that, if the rule was changed to one metre – as has been implemented in some other countries – that would make re-opening much more feasible.

Asked about the government’s announcement that it was now reviewing the two metre rule – and could as yet reduce it to one metre – Chancellor Of The Exchequer Rishi Sunak told the BBC this weekend that scientists and public health officials would also input on that review process.

He said: “Much as I would like to see it reduced – everyone would like to see that reduced from an economic perspective – we can only do that if it’s safe and responsible to do so”. That said, he conceded that the final decision would be a political one, because scientists have made clear there is a “different degree of risk at different levels”.

The NTIA – which counts bars and restaurants, as well as venues and clubs, among its membership – welcomed the government’s announcement.

Its CEO, Michael Kills, said: “One of the key challenges around the re-opening of the night time economy and events sector is the current guide for physical distancing. We welcome the government’s announcement with regard to the review of the current measures, and await the outcome with much anticipation”.

“However”, he added, “the decision needs to be made ahead of the scheduled 4 Jul opening, to allow businesses the ability to prepare for opening if they are able to. The industry maintains it commitment to ensuring that we open at the right time with the correct measures to keep our staff and patrons safe, we must also recognise the importance of our sector to our cultural and civic life”.

While Sunak’s comments this weekend on social distancing rules were generally welcomed, his answers to questions about the gaps in the financial support the government has offered those negatively impacted by COVID-19 were not.

Many small businesses and freelancers in the music industry – and well beyond – have found that they don’t qualify for any of the government’s support schemes because of the way they have structured their businesses, or because of a relatively recent change in their circumstances. There have been multiple calls for ministers to deal with these gaps in support, but no action has been taken.

In an interview with Sky News, Sunak said that the scale of the COVID-19 crisis and the speed with which support needed to be provided meant that it wasn’t possible to provide everyone with the support they “wanted”.

ExcludedUK – a cross sector organisation representing the various groups who have not been able to access government support during the COVID-19 shutdown – was not impressed with those remarks.

It stated: “Whilst we appreciate that the Chancellor had to bring out some measures swiftly, ExcludedUK does not see the rationale nor any fair justification as to why an estimated three million have been excluded either entirely or largely from these support measures”.

“It is not about what people ‘wanted””, it added, “but, most importantly, what is fair and what they need”. And while it maybe true that initial schemes couldn’t support everyone, there has been plenty of time to subsequently address the gaps, the campaign group went on.

“ExcludedUK believes there has been ample time since [the initial schemes were announced] to further examine what could be done to help those left without adequate support who were furthering their careers by starting a new job, those who have set up a new business, those who have entrepreneurial spirit and serve their communities as small businesses, those who earn their living through a combination of PAYE and self-employment, those whose parental leave fell at a certain time … the list goes on”.