Now is the time for government, both national and local across the whole of the UK to be open minded about the future… We want to contribute and we want to thrive again, but to do so we will need the help of government; help to trade and enough working capital to get us to the starting line.
by Mark Laurie
A report was published in Winter 2019 that declared that the street food sector was worth £1.2bn to the UK economy and was the only growth area in hospitality in the UK. Just over 12 months later, the mobile catering and indie hospitality sectors stand on the brink of collapse.
The mobile catering sector has arguably been hit the hardest of all in hospitality. With half of the sector reliant on outdoor events such as festivals, many have not worked profitably since Autumn 2019. Shut out of events, mobile caterers have fallen through the cracks of support across the whole of the UK and many have been unable to ‘pivot’ to takeaway or delivery businesses due to arcane street trading rules. The closure of the wedding sector has been equally damaging for many. Understandably booked up years ahead in normal times, bookings fell like skittles last spring and have continued to fall. The government has suggested that even non-refundable deposits should be refunded, leaving catering companies scrambling for money that has been spent.
Indie restaurants and bars have also struggled. Often too small to re-open safely, or with capacity cut to unfeasible levels. The curfew and other measures designed to reduce the risks associated with alcohol consumption and distancing, have left businesses either mothballing or trying to survive.
It has not been all doom and gloom, the agility and innovation displayed in the past 12 months has been quite incredible. From groceries and cook at home, to bossing it on the delivery apps; many NCASS members have done what they needed to do in order to survive and find ways to earn a living, although the focus has been very much on survival instead of growth.
It’s no surprise that businesses – and people are running out of cash. Businesses took out loans with the expectation of working properly this year, however, the repayments begin soon but the chance to work does not. Most were ineligible for grants, VAT cuts, rate cuts and Eat Out To Help Out, and the amounts handed out in discretionary grants rarely cover the cost of a street trading licence.
Indie hospitality businesses need an injection of liquidity, of cash, based on proven turnover and they need it soon. To get to a position where they are able to trade or to pivot, businesses need working capital. To make the right decisions, businesses also need to be able to think more than a week ahead. This is true not just of catering businesses but across the supply lines of the outdoor events and functions industry. Across the sector, micro businesses have proven ineligible for government lifelines so far across the whole of the four nations.
Next week, the Prime Minister will lay out his national road map for returning the whole of the UK economy to some resemblance of normality. It’s a lot later than we all expected or hoped and there is understandable caution on the part of Government to unlock too soon and risk a further lockdown.
The hospitality bounce back begins al fresco. It is safer for customers and for businesses to be outside because the wind provides perfect ventilation, dispersing aerosols and minute water droplets from potentially containing Covid-19. This bounce back was made for mobile catering – yet there is a risk we will miss out.
In May 2020, the Local Government Association wrote to advise councils of the predicament of mobile caterers and to ask them to be flexible and understanding. However, this has produced mixed results. Many local authorities have been extremely understanding and helpful. However, the Local Government Miscellaneous Provisions Act, has not been flexible enough.
Now is the time for local authorities to embrace the potential of mobile catering, to facilitate trading pitches for businesses to allow them to service the community and survive. With so many people working from home, city centre footfall has evaporated. Mobile catering can offer two solutions:
One – to encourage people back into towns and cities by providing safe and enjoyable social, yet, distanced events.
Two – taking food to the people in the suburbs. A restaurant on wheels can chase the footfall and does not have to be dependent on one location to be profitable.
In addition, the events sector professionally manages risk. It seems crazy to me to have the events industry desperately trying to work out how to put on an event that won’t be shut by public health, when they could be assisting with the opening up of urban spaces, from parks to high streets to land ‘awaiting development’. Local authorities should engage with the events trade associations to develop a programme of arts and culture and safely managed fun – with great catering.
We saw what unmanaged people on the beaches and the parks looked like last summer and arguably its part of the reason we’re still in this mess. Yes, it might be weird getting a ticket for the beach or the park, but it would be safer.
We’re calling on the government to support our sector and #EmpowerIndependents
Now is the time for government, both national and local to be open minded about the future. The economy has shifted and will continue to shift for some time. Our normal trading conditions will not return until 2022 if at all. We want to contribute and we want to thrive again, but to do so we will need the help of government; help to trade and enough working capital to get us to the starting line.
We have two weeks to convince the government that with their help, the independent food sector can not only survive but flourish – but we need your help.
We need data – that means we need you to fill in the survey to tell us what you need to survive and when you need it by.
We need case studies and images: send us a one pager on how your year has gone with images of your food and unit.
We need you to engage your local politicians. Write to your MP about this and get involved on social media.
Now is the time to play your part in the battle. The indie food & drink sector must prevail, but we need everyone to get on board in order to get our voices heard. Remember, individually we are one drop, but together we are an ocean. Join us in creating a tidal wave of attention for our great sector that the government will be hard pressed to ignore.Find out more about the campaign Tell us about you Download social assets