Some northern leaders set to oppose restrictions on hospitality
Some northern leaders are set to voice their opposition to further coronavirus restrictions being placed on hospitality, at a meeting with Government officials.
New restrictions are expected which could see pubs and restaurants in areas of northern England temporarily closed.
But critics said the hospitality sector had been “forgotten” and “picked on”, amid fears businesses would not come back from a second lockdown.
Leaders from areas of the North were due to have a Government briefing with a senior Whitehall official on Friday, but the meetings were understood to have been delayed to the afternoon.
Gateshead Council leader Martin Gannon said before the meeting that the council leaders of Northumberland, Newcastle, South and North Tyneside, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham had “agreed a line”.
He told the PA news agency: “Despite three sets of regulations in 10 days and the ensuing mixed messaging, there is evidence that, excluding higher education students (which is a national problem), new cases are beginning to plateau.
“We need more time, clearer messaging and greater support from government.”
Asked if that meant they opposed plans to shutter pubs and restaurants in the North, he said: “We believe the current measures can work without further damage by closing hospitality.
“If government ignore us we will call for a substantial financial package to sustain the businesses and workers.”
Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester Council, said evidence suggested that, apart from among students, the virus was most likely to spread in household settings, and pubs, bars and restaurants were not major sources of transmission.
He said measures including the 10pm curfew were having a “seriously negative impact” on the economy.
Sir Richard added: “Further measures risk posing an existential threat for enormous numbers of our businesses and the people who work in them.”
Speaking at a meeting of Liverpool City Council’s cabinet on Friday morning, Mayor Joe Anderson said he was due to meet the Prime Minister’s policy officer.
He said: “We’re hoping, and being trailed this morning is an indication that Government are listening to us in relation to a funded package to support the hospitality sector if there are indeed some stricter measures coming in.”
He added: “The most important issue facing us is the Covid crisis for the health and wellbeing of the people of this city, but equally, and as importantly now, is the economic wellbeing of the city.”
Night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester Sacha Lord said he had not been shown any statistics on the spread of coronavirus in bars and restaurants.
He said: “We keep saying ‘show us the science’ and if they show us the science of course we will absolutely work with them because we want the R rate to come down, and if that means shutting, we’ll close to help the R rate come down, but the support package needs to be there.”
Mr Lord said targeting the hospitality industry was a “cheap, easy thing” for the Government to do.
He added: “They’ve forgotten that we are the fifth biggest industry in the UK, they’ve forgotten that we put £70 billion into the economy last year.
“It’s a cheap headline, it looks like they’re doing something, but actually it’s completely reckless.”
Frank McKenna, from Liverpool networking group Downtown in Business, said: “I think the industry sector itself feels as though it has been picked on when they have gone way beyond in most respects to ensure they are Covid-safe and spent, in some cases, thousands of pounds.
“Of course they feel discriminated against, and to not even consult with businesses before they introduce those measures is utterly outrageous.”
He said in the past few days he had spoken to about 40 hospitality business owners and about a quarter were considering closing if there was another lockdown.
At a briefing for MPs in northern England and the Midlands on Thursday, chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty referred to figures showing that pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes account for 30% of “common exposure settings”, according to preliminary analysis of contact tracing by Public Health England.