Soho has warned that without government support one of the nation’s most diverse and important communities faces destruction. In an open letter jointly sent to Boris Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng and Westminster’s MP Nickie Allen the Soho Business Alliance requested intervention from central government to help businesses stay afloat, and a spokesman prophesied to London’s Evening Standard “If Soho dies London dies”.
The group set out the dire situation facing Soho’s hospitality industry, which includes some of London’s most notable restaurants and hotels not to mention iconic LGBTQ+ venues, private members’ clubs and a wide array of specialist shops and small businesses. The group points out that rateable values in the area mean that practically nobody in hospitality accessed any grant support in 2020, while most of the venues are small townhouses where the impact of social distancing is felt more greatly (you have to serve fewer people) than most of the rest of the country.
The group’s case to the government is that the sector is crucial, saying “When the country emerges from this pandemic, surviving hospitality businesses will be pivotal in restoring a sense of normality, by providing experiences for a nation that has sacrificed so much. If adequately supported, hospitality can play a vital and significant role in reviving the UK’s economy, driving recovery across the UK, as it did following the 2008 financial crisis, when it created 1 in 6 new jobs over the subsequent decade.
“Hospitality can only play this role if it is appropriately supported while restrictions are in place and trade is recovering. During the crisis, Hospitality has supported key workers, communities and the vulnerable during times of unprecedented national crisis”
And the group has some solutions.
Suggestions from the Soho Business Alliance include extending business rates relief and the 5% VAT rate on food (and considering extending this to drink sales too). They ask for an extension on the interest free period on the government’s loan scheme as well as making the repayment period 10 years as well as changing the contributions for the furlough scheme. Many landlords, unable to evict non-paying businesses, are facing ruin. In order to help tenants and landlords the group asks for government to ensure banks can’t foreclose on landlords and should support negotiations between tenants and landlords. Finally, they want deferred PAYE and VAT to be payable over three or five years.
The Alliance say that without help in these areas Soho, and the hospitality sector as a whole, is heading “towards mass failure, CVAs and liquidation”.
The case for government help is compelling, when Rishi Sunak declared nearly a year ago now that he’d ‘do what it takes’ to help businesses survive he certainly delivered, and the furlough scheme and grants have helped save the sector so far, but now more is clearly needed. The government have, in effect, saved the patient’s life in A&E, but now they need to be taken to the wards to be revived back into health. Without continued treatment, many patients will not make it.
If you’re missing Soho and want to lend weight to the campaign then you can help by signing the open letter by clicking here.