The Handbook
The Handbook

When Tom Kerridge asks WTAF?, you’d better have a quick answer. The Michelin starred chef responded to Boris Johnson’s Monday recommendation that people avoid restaurants with typical humour and directness, demanding the government comes up with something (anything!). And last night Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the first measures he’s putting in place to help businesses and people during the growing health and financial crisis.

In case you’ve been living in a monastery for the past month (in which case go straight back and renew your vow of silence or whatever until about June), the spread of Coronavirus through the population has started to seriously uptick as the thing really gets going. The government’s advice has very much been ‘buckle in and prepare for the ride’, which in reality, and at the moment, means avoiding everyone from your granny to the waiter at your favourite restaurant. Which leaves them in, how to put it… the sh*t? Which is why the chancellor had to act, and act fast.

The result: ‘Whatever it takes’.

The chancellor announced measures to protect the hospitality industry, which includes bars, restaurants, members’ clubs, hotels, in fact all the things you love reading about in The Handbook. They include:

  • A business rates holiday for the year to cover all companies in the sector, with Sunak promising “Every single shop, pub, theatre, music venue, restaurant … will pay no business rates for 12 months”. This is good news for large chains, whose business rates bill runs into millions, but will also help out struggling venues as well as the retail industry, although the chancellor already announced that smaller businesses wont’t have to pay rates this year.
  • Grants will be available to hospitality businesses of £25,000 for those smaller companies with rateable values up to £51,000. This will provide a lifeline to the smallest businesses and might well tide them over in the near-term, though most companies employing more than a modest workforce might well find this isn’t nearly enough. Basing figures on rateable values will also penalise businesses based in London, where rateable values are likely to be far higher than out in the sticks.
  • Smaller businesses in the sector will also be able to apply for grants of up to £10,000. Again free money which may be enough to stave off the worst in the near term, but again probably won’t go very far at all.
  • The government is going to back loans of £330bn to help companies. They will be on ‘attractive terms’ (as yet unspecified, but given the historically low base rate, it’s likely to be cheap. Loans of up to £5m will be on offer, with no interest due for the first six months. This may be the most attractive lifeline on offer, though of course it will all need paying back.
  • The chancellor committed the insurance industry to paying out to all within the sector who have coverage, but also offered government money to those who don’t, upto £25,000.

Of course the industry will already be hoping that the chancellor will go further and soon, and he’s heavily hinted that he will. He also announced plans to shore up the airlines and airport industries (coz no flights right now) and has started outlining how the government will help individuals, with three month mortgage holidays touted as the first measure. But he’s going to have to do more.

The hospitality sector will need far more support, and fast, to keep well known names disappearing forever. The biggest concern for many is payroll, with the end of the month looming large. It is hoped that Sunak will go further and commit government money in the sector to help cover staff payments up to a certain salary level. A petition asking government to do more has now reached over 200,000 and the chancellor himself has committed to do more and soon.

Watch this space, but let’s hope ‘Whatever it takes’ means whatever it does…

The Handbook has teamed up with The Grill at The Dorchester for an exclusive competition. Entrants will have the chance to win a dinner for two at The Grill at The Dorchester when it re-opens!