UK hospitality industry mounts legal challenge to fresh lockdown rules

Bars and pubs in Liverpool at the weekend.
Photo: Shutterstock

The hospitality industry is set to take legal action to halt new coronavirus local lockdown rules that could force pub, clubs and other venues to close.

Trade body the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) stated there was no evidence that hospitality venues contributed to the spread of Covid-19 and has called for a judicial review on new lockdown proposals.

NTIA chief executive Michael Kill said of the new three-tier system of Covid-19 restrictions: “These new measures will have a catastrophic impact on late night businesses, and are exacerbated further by an insufficient financial support package presented by the chancellor in an attempt to sustain businesses through this period,” he said.

“This next round of restrictions are hugely disproportionate and unjust, with no scientific rationale or correlation to Public Health England transmission rates, when compared to other key environments.”

The hospitality industry had been left with “no other option”, he added, but to take legal action.

The move could force the government to reveal the scientific evidence behind new lockdown measures.

Under the three-tier system, which will classify regions as being at a medium, high or very high level of alert the Liverpool region is expected to face the tightest restrictions. These will likely see pubs, bars and other hospitality and leisure businesses forced to close, as has happened in parts of Scotland.

The chancellor has promised to pay two-thirds of workers’ wages if employers are forced to close due to the new rules.

But the impact on jobs will still be very damaging, said Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, director general of business lobby group the CBI.

“It is particularly hard for hospitality who worked so hard to get their premises Covid-safe, but also the supply chains that depend on them,” she told the BBC’s Today programme.

“I think they do want to see a much more evidence-based approach – the government needs to show its workings.”

Support for NTIA’s legal action has come from leaders in northern England, which has been hard hit by the new surge in coronavirus cases. The British Beer and Pub Association and two of the country’s biggest pub operators, JW Lees and Joseph Holt, alongside 10 other organisations, also support the action.

Manchester’s night time economy adviser, Sacha Lord, said: “Once again the government wants to shut down pubs and bars, but this cannot keep happening and we need to understand why the hospitality industry is being isolated like this – where is the scientific evidence to suggest closing venues suppresses transmission?”

Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said many workers faced hardship if their employer was forced to close.

“The government is treating hospitality industry workers as second-class citizens. Many of them are already on the minimum wage and there is no justification for a furlough scheme that pays two-thirds of their wages when workers in other industries were given four-fifths,” he said.

We need to understand why the hospitality industry is being isolated like this – where is the scientific evidence to suggest closing venues suppresses transmission?” – Sacha Lord, Manchester night time economy adviser

The government is already facing a legal challenge over its decision to impose a 10pm curfew on English pubs – Jeremy Joseph, the owner of Soho’s G-A-Y nightclub, is seeking a judicial review to overturn the curfew.

Sophie Wingfield, director of policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, warned the government of the damage the new restrictions could cause: “The chancellor must be mindful that shutting of businesses in affected areas will have knock-on effects right down the supply chain.

“This includes recruitment firms which have been working hard to supply staff to businesses in sectors like hospitality as they reopened. We need to make sure the right support reaches those businesses too. We must also ensure temporary workers, a huge source of strength for businesses right now, do not fall through the net and that the scheme works effectively for all forms of worker – which took too long to establish in the original furlough scheme.”

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