Coronavirus: ‘Our ray of hope turned into an oncoming train’

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Dan Davies

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Rockpoint Leisure

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Mr Davies says the 10pm curfew is “killing our trade”

A UK leisure firm has revealed the challenges businesses still face as part of the ongoing Covid-19 outbreak.

Rockpoint Leisure, in New Brighton, on Merseyside, employs 150 people, in its a restaurant, pub, barbers-cum-bar, and – most recently – an art gallery.

“We thought we had seen the light at the end of the tunnel, but it has turned out to be an oncoming train,” says boss Dan Davies.

It comes as the British Chambers of Commerce says UK firms are struggling.

‘Curfew killing trade’

Nearly half of UK companies are seeing sales decrease as they endure a sustained cash crunch, according to the BCC.

Its Quarterly Economic Survey found that business conditions remained weak in the third quarter of 2020, despite much of the economy reopening.

Businesses serving consumers, including hospitality, and such as those owned by Mr Davies, fared the worst it added.

The “oncoming train” Mr Davies refers to is the restriction imposed by the government last month on pub closing times.

“The 10pm curfew is killing our trade,” he says.

He said bars and restaurants faced a tough financial quarter as they were still having to employ door people and other staff, but their trading hours were being reduced by the latest lockdown curbs, including the new 10pm closing time.

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Rockport Leisure

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Mr Davies fears some firms in the leisure trade will go bust over the winter

“The industry has got a long hard winter coming,” he said. “A lot of businesses in our sector are not going to be open when the new year comes around.”

As well as being a BCC member, Mr Davies also sits on the board of regulatory body the Institute of Licensing, and on the board of trade body UK Hospitality

His firm is regenerating the Victorian Quarter of the Wirral seaside town, and owns and runs a number of businesses including a restaurant, pub, barbers-cum-bar, and most recently an art gallery.

He said the business environment had been tough since lockdown, with him and his business partners having to plough more of their own money in.

“The furlough scheme and Eat Out to Help Out were of benefit to our sector, then the new restrictions were brought in,” he says.

Cash flow woes

According to the BCC, despite improvements in some business indicators compared to earlier in the year, “business conditions remain close to historic lows”.

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PA Media

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak has outlined a Winter Economy Plan for the UK

Its survey looked at 6,410 firms, employing more than 580,000 people across the UK, and found:

  • Almost half (46%) of firms reported a decrease in UK sales, with just over a quarter (27%) reporting an increase on the previous quarter
  • For firms in the services sector – which makes up the bulk of the UK economy – cash flow remains at levels comparable to the 2008-09 recession
  • Two-thirds (66%) of respondents in hospitality and catering saw decreases in sales and bookings.

While the July-to-September period saw an improvement compared with the second quarter, the majority of firms continued to report decreases or no change in sales during the third quarter.

Social distancing restrictions

Adding to the overall gloomy picture, the BCC points out that most of its surveying took place before the prime minister’s announcement in the middle of September that a “second spike” of coronavirus had hit the UK.

It says the subsequent introduction of new national restrictions – such as those experienced by Mr Davies – and tightening local restrictions paint a concerning picture for business conditions in the fourth quarter of the year,

Suren Thiru, BCC head of economics, said:  ”Our latest survey indicates that underlying economic conditions remained exceptionally weak in the third quarter.

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JUSTIN TALLIS/Getty Images

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Hospitality and catering firms have seen decreases in sales and bookings

“The manufacturing sector recorded the strongest improvements in the quarter, while consumer-focused services firms, where social distancing restricts activity, saw more limited gains.

“The persistent weakness in cash flow is concerning as it leaves firms more vulnerable to external shocks, including further restrictions.”

BCC director general Dr Adam Marshall added:   ”Our findings clearly demonstrate that business conditions remain fragile in the face of uncertainty, with the prospect of a difficult winter to come.”

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