London business leaders today said they were relieved to have been spared Tier 3 — but were counting the cost of a four-week lockdown that has hit the capital’s economy for an estimated £6 billion.
However, there was anger that hundreds of “wet-led” pubs will not be allowed to serve customers under beefed-up Tier 2 restrictions, and demands that London is dropped into Tier 1 as soon as infection rates allow.
Retailers classified as “non-essential” and much of the hospitality sector will be able to start trading again following the Health Secretary’s announcement today. But bars that primarily serve drinks will have to stay shut.
Michael Lassman, London chair of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “These have been trying and difficult times for so many, and with the festive season upon us it’s never been more important to see trading resume once again. Many small businesses in London will be issuing a sigh of relief that they can operate in Tier 2 in what is the busiest month of the year for many. However, the challenges are prevalent for many in the hospitality sector and we must encourage people to support them in this time of need. We would support a move to Tier 1 as soon as the infection numbers warrant it.”
Ruth Duston, who oversees nine central London business districts, said: “Hospitality and retail businesses are complicated operations and they cannot continue switching the tap on and off. I urge the Government to consult the industry closely to properly monitor the impact of reopening and identify and rectify issues swiftly to avoid the closure of any businesses in the future.”
Pub bosses said most central London venues will stay shut until April because they do not serve “substantial meals”.
Fuller’s chief executive Simon Emeny said: “I would envisage most companies including Fuller’s will endeavour to reopen pubs in suburban community areas... But pubs in the city centre I think overall will remain closed from now until April.”
Restaurateurs have seen a wave of bookings from Wednesday as diners celebrate the end of lockdown and the run-up to Christmas. Michelin-starred chef Jason Atherton said: “We’re simply thrilled to be back… it’s going to be mad and December will be the best on record.”
However, Tom Aikens of Muse said: "It seems that this time around there seems to have been a bit more thought put into the different tiering systems. The statistics show that hospitality is not the cause of the resurgence of the virus - as an industry we are strict with health and safety regulations anyway, and are the safest and most sanitised environments in which to meet.
“We've been used as the scapegoat for too long. We should be allowed to remain open, operating at our full capacity without the curfew - I really do question what that is really going to accomplish limiting last orders to 10pm. We should be given our full licence to run our venues and make as much revenue as we can - this year has been hard enough and the job losses catastrophic. This scaremongering has to stop - it's turning customers away. Let us operate fully and help build up the economy again. It's tough for small businesses as it is. Pubs and publicans, well they're really not going to have a happy Christmas.”
His sentiments were echoed by Mohammad Paknejad, co-founder of Nutshell, who told the Standard: “As expected, most of the country seems to have been placed in Tier 2 and Tier 3. What should have been the most prosperous period for hospitality venues across the country with all the festivities, will be another month of struggle for survival.
"We are all doing what we can and taking part in reducing pressure off the NHS and saving lives. Now, we need some help from the government in paying all the bills so we can save jobs and livelihoods.”
Councillor Rachael Robathan, leader of Westminster City Council, said: “Tier 2 status still leaves an incredibly challenging few months ahead for our thousands of pubs and bars - our priority as a council is to do everything we can to help them survive Including extending the capital’s most expansive al fresco dining scheme into the winter so that households can enjoy hospitality together outdoors in safety.
“We are launching a major initiative to alert those venues with a drinks-only licence that this can be quickly amended to add food as an option. Council officers will help venues wherever possible.
“It’s important action is taken now so our pubs and bars can salvage as much of the vital pre-Christmas trade as they can.”