Independent retailers are breathing a sigh of relief as the government's COVID Winter Plan allows them to reopen ahead of Christmas but there are challenges ahead for bars and restaurants.
Under the government's COVID Winter Plan, the current lockdown will come to an end but a stricter regional tier system will come into effect from 2 December. It is good news for shops but leaves bars and restaurants waiting to find out how the tier system will affect them.
The new plan means that shops, gyms, beauty salons, hairdressers and leisure business can reopen across the UK. Weddings and outdoor sports can also resume. However, bars and restaurants will be subject to restrictions depending on the level of tier they are in.
The government has yet to announce which tier will apply in different regions of the UK. Where pubs and restaurants are allowed to open, the hospitality curfew has been changed to "last orders at 10pm and closing time at 11pm".
The new plan means that the "stay at home" order will end and the rule of six will again apply to those meeting outside their house.
The impact of tougher tiers means that:
- In tier 1, people will be encouraged to minimise travel and work from home where possible;
- In tier 2, alcohol may only be served in hospitality settings as part of a substantial meal;
- In tier 3, hospitality will close except for delivery and takeaway; indoor entertainment venues, such as cinemas and bowling alleys, must also close.
Tiering decisions will be reviewed every 14 days. Ministers are still working on a plan for Christmas.
Mike Cherry, national chair of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), said: "Many small firms across England will be breathing a sigh of relief to hear that they'll be able to reopen their doors once again after the second national lockdown. However, many will continue to remain anxious as businesses await to discover what tier they will be placed in and the impact that will have on their trading."
The weeks leading up to Christmas are crucial for the UK's small retailers. "We are grateful for those that have held back their Christmas shopping until this moment to support their local shops which means that, for the small business sector, Christmas shopping can finally begin," said Cherry.
Once again, the FSB has highlighted the plight of those that have fallen through the cracks when it comes to government support. "The newly self-employed and company directors have been left with little or no help from the government, and that has to change urgently. Which is why we've called for, in a joint letter, a Directors Income Support Scheme which would finally address the shortcomings that these individuals have faced, at a time when they still need to provide for their families."
It comes as new data from the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) and digital bank Starling reveals that one million freelancers have gone into debt because of the pandemic. Britain's freelance population has shrunk from five million to 4.46 million since March 2020.
Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said: "It is helpful that the prime minister has heeded our call to give businesses at least a week's notice of the rule changes that will affect firms across England from 2 December."
However, he added: "Ministers can't simply keep switching businesses on and off like a light switch without expecting severe consequences. COVID-secure businesses will be looking to the government for a plan that keeps them, and the economy, open throughout winter and beyond."
On a similar note, Roger Barker, director of policy at the Institute of Directors (IoD), described the announcement as a "decidedly mixed bag for business". He said: "Opening non-essential retail is a huge boost … However, businesses in the hospitality sector and their supply chains will be reeling. It's vital the government reinstates and extends insolvency protections until the Spring. Further grant support and tax deferrals should also be considered, as firms could now see reduced income for months."
Written by Rachel Miller.