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Retailers, pubs and restaurants have called on the government to give them at least a week’s warning about new coronavirus trading restrictions after England’s lockdown ends on 2 December.
Business leaders called for clarity on how any new tier system of graded lockdowns would work, which parts of the country would be affected and the level of government support that would be in place to help those businesses unable to trade under any new rules.
Their intervention comes after the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, said on Tuesday that the UK government was reviewing England’s tier system to decide which restrictions should be put in place next month.
Speaking to a parliamentary inquiry into the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on businesses in the UK, Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of the UK Hospitality trade body which represents thousands of restaurants, pubs and hotels, said the government needed to let businesses know details of the restrictions as soon as possible given that many were “legally based with massive fines attached”.
“It is simply not good enough to have that information coming out 12 hours before we reopen, which is what we had in September and October,” she said. “We need to know for certain what we are facing over Christmas and new year.”
She added that it would be best if details of the regulations were first discussed with business leaders and unions to prevent “unforeseen consequences” – such as gatherings prompted by the introduction of a curfew on pubs and restaurants.
“If [the government] had talked to industry and regulators they would have got a better outcome,” she said.
Helen Dickinson, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) trade body, agreed that “more homework was needed” on the speed of government decision-making and the clarity of the rules.
Businesses told MPs on the business, energy and industrial strategy committee that discussions about reopening had so far been “very limited”.
Ralph Findlay, the chief executive of the brewer and pub operator Marston’s said “the industry lost confidence in government” partly because they had first heard of many of its plans for restrictions after leaks to the media.
The business leaders and union representatives set out how thousands of jobs had already been lost this year as retail and hospitality businesses had been forced to close in an attempt to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
Both the BRC and UK Hospitality called for the government to intervene to help resolve the issue of rents, which have gone unpaid while businesses have been closed. The trade bodies said thousands more outlets could shut in the new year as many landlords had yet to agree to any cuts or rent holidays during the lockdown and a moratorium on evictions was due to end next month.