The Handbook
The Handbook

Six weeks ago I ate my last meal in a restaurant. It was Millie’s at The Ned, the final night before hospitality shut down. And the dinner was completely splendid, one of the best, with sumptuous food (including an obligatory scotch egg) and brilliant service. I’ve been replaying it in my imagination ever since. Until now we could only guess at when restaurants might reopen. But thanks to a report in the Telegraph, we now know that the government’s timeline is April…

According to documents leaked to the paper, the government is planning a ‘halfway house’ reopening in April, which falls into line with Boris’s self-imposed ‘by Easter’ deadline. The cautious reopening will allow restaurants and hospitality to reopen but with strict social distancing, much as it was until December.

The plan also reveals that schools are to open first, followed by some outdoor social interaction (along the ‘rule-of-six’ lines) before a wholesale reopening of the economy in the first week of July, when over 50s should’ve all received their second jabs and, it’s hoped, the virus will be very much in retreat.

The secret plan leaves the hospitality industry scratching their heads, frustrated at the lack of communication from government (this is a leak from a newspaper, not a policy document from Downing Street) but also trying to figure out how on earth to eek out surviving paying rents, rates and salary contributions while only opening for takeaway and whatever else they can do to entrepreneur their ways out of lockdown in the meantime.

And a plan of sorts, albeit unofficial and vague, doesn’t mean that it’ll be all-guns-blazing come April Fools’ Day, the government (talking of which) will expect hospitality to keep a lid on things until July, when its hoped that we can return to ‘business as usual’.

The secret plan leaves the hospitality industry scratching their heads...

The plan is based on vaccinations, with the ‘halfway house’ reopening scheduled to coincide with the first vaccination of all over 50s. The full opening, in July, will correspond to all the current scheduled groups having received their second, booster, injections. The current data suggests this will prevent around 99% of all coronavirus deaths.

Speaking on behalf of UK Hospitality, the pressure group’s CEO Kate Nicholls told the Torygraph “We understand that restrictions might need to be in place for quite a period of time after we reopen.

“In that case, given that would have a significant impact on business viability and jobs within the sector, we would want to work with the Government to support us through that reopening and recovery period as we transition out of restrictions.

“Key to that would be extending the business rates holiday and the VAT cut.”

Millie's Lounge at The Ned - counting down the days...

We'd like to see further EOTHO schemes, led by government, to sit alongside the reopening as well as more direct help...

Of course these proposals need to be just the start of the support due to an industry that employs over 3.6 million Brits and is crucial to the nation’s recovery. The Handbook would like to see further EOTHO schemes, led by government, to sit alongside the reopening as well as more direct help.

Perhaps the Chancellor could commit to continuing furlough payments for a period after employees return to work, effectively intervening to cover the payrolls of the country’s hardest hit sectors for a short time? Such help might be enough to stave off the impending collapse of so many beloved restaurants, pubs and bars.

Needless to say, a Downing Street anxious not to paint itself into a corner has tried to distance itself from the leaked suggestions, evasively telling reporters “It’s not a timetable under discussion”.

But the government do need to start being up-front with business owners and the broader public as to their plans. Of course we all understand that new variants or vaccine production hitches or (please no) issues with the vaccines themselves, can throw plans, but it’s fair to expect transparency from the government as it plans our futures. And with cases dropping fast there’s a reckoning quickly approaching as perpetual lockdown without end becomes impossible to defend.

Amazonico, you're on our list too!

Until then, I’m going to close my eyes and remember that T-bone steak at The Ned and count down the days until it reopens once again…

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