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Opinion Piece: We may have a road map to reopening but this is “no time to sit and wait”

By Mark Laurie

Let’s be honest, we were all half expecting a cul-de-sac rather than an actual road map for our sector. After twelve months of largely relentless bad news, why would we expect anything else. The events campaign we are involved in – #wemakeevents – was centred around the whole sector feeling invisible to government. The weddings campaign we support -#whataboutweddings – was reporting dire straits across their industry, while our campaign #EmpowerIndependents aimed to remind people of the extra value you get when you buy from independent businesses. 

In the space of a few minutes the Prime Minister recognised events, announced a hopefully feasible return for weddings and acknowledged the pressure on small business owners during the pandemic. As importantly, the prime minister states that ‘the rug would not be pulled from under businesses’ across our sector who have been particularly impacted by Covid. 

I wrote to the Minister for Business this week about this issue. It really is the only issue in terms of economic recovery that matters. Businesses are not primed and ready at the starting line ready to gallop on to success as soon as measures are removed. Many businesses are running out of cash right now. They need an injection of liquidity, but they also need to know that the support won’t be whipped away too soon, leading to them falling over. As around 85% of NCASS members have not received government support (the rug), it’s perhaps not surprising that many of our customers are wondering if you needed to have a rug in the first place to have it whipped away. Did this mean that those who have received support would continue to be out in the cold?  

I have no magic ball, but I am confident that we have made our case effectively and that we have been listened to. I remain hopeful, more hopeful than I have been for some time. But, like you, I await the budget announcement on the 3rd of March. 

Even businesses that have received a reasonable share of grant cash have accrued significant debts over the past 12 months, those with healthy reserves will have eaten into them. Opening up will have costs and managing in the new reality will have unforeseen risks and costs associated. The economy will not likely burst into action and as such calling in loans or removing support too early could have a huge impact on businesses viability.  

We have a roadmap. If all goes to plan and the vaccine roll out continues to be successful, street food and mobile catering should be back providing al fresco dining from mid-April, mass events should return from late June (possibly with mitigations in place). In pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants and much more, we should have our liberty back just in time for what would have been Glastonbury. That will have to wait another year, but hopefully we’ll be bouncing back very soon. With no clear dates for NI, Wales or Scotland yet we need to push for continued support.

But don’t sit and wait. Get involved. Fill in the survey, that data really helps us to make the case for supporting independent F&B businesses such as yours.

Read more about our #EmpowerIndependents campaign.