Preston city centre firms: 'We are ready to reopen - but we need support'

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
City centre businesses say they are hoping the government will soon give them the go-ahead to reopen, but they want support to be able to do it safely.

Ahead of Monday’s announcement from Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Preston businesses are hoping to be given guidance on when they can return to trading along with clear restrictions to help prevent another lockdown.

Hospitality bosses are hoping that the PM’s path out of lockdown will see them offered financial support through business rate holidays and VAT reductions after the lockdown restrictions begin to lift.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Prime Minister is expected to outline the structured easing of the national restrictions implemented to stop the spread of coronavirus.

Paul Butler at the Stanley ArmsPaul Butler at the Stanley Arms
Paul Butler at the Stanley Arms

The news comes as Deliveroo founder Will Shu wrote an open letter to Boris Johnson, signed by 330 restaurant partners, urging him to bring back the ‘Eat out to Help out’ scheme as well as extending the business rates relief and continuing to offer reduced VAT on food.

Andy Mac. owner of the Ships and Giggles bar and restaurant, on Fylde Road, said the scheme should only be reintroduced once all social distancing measures have been lifted, and the virus is a thing of the past for it to be a success.

He said: “In my opinion, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme won’t be necessary when everything is allowed to open up again and if they do the same scheme, it will just cause further complications when we all have enough on our plate.

“To me, it’s an uncomfortable power play.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“They spent that long chopping and changing the guidelines, making us work tirelessly to try and adapt and simply survive, just to epically fail and put us back in lockdown and now, the sheer thought of considering eat out to help out is absolute madness - the last thing I need is a repeat of last time.

“Of course, throw that offer in once all the guidelines are done and dusted and we are Covid-free, that would be great.

“One minute they are pushing people into bars and restaurants and then the next, they are telling you to avoid them.

“The scheme is great, but the timing needs to be right, and the offer can wait.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I would say give us the offer, but give us it once we beat the virus.”

On March 3, Chancellor Rishi Sunak plans to unveil his Spring Budget, when hospitality bosses are hoping for another extension to the VAT relief.

More than 160 CEOs from the UK’s leading hospitality businesses have written to the Chancellor ahead of next month’s Budget to call for decisive support to help the sector survive.

The letter, co-ordinated by trade body UKHospitality, calls on the Government to extend VAT cut and rates holiday, and provide a decisive package of financial support to businesses.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Mark O’Rourke, owner of the Winckley Square Ale House and Fino Tapas has called for the cuts to remain for ‘at least another year’.

He added: “The (Eat Out) scheme was great, we saw a lot of people come back out and visit hospitality venues after the initial lockdown last year, which was brilliant from a business point of view, but the downside was that in Preston, we were closed again just a few weeks after.

“My worry with bringing the scheme back straight away is whether it is a sensible thing to do so soon, by encouraging so many people to come and eat out again we could just end up back in another lockdown.

“It has been an incredibly hard time for anyone in the hospitality industry, so these schemes definitely do help to bring funds in to begin covering what has been lost, and people will be desperate to get out and begin socialising and eating out again after the lockdown.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I am looking forward to seeing how we will perform when restrictions are lifted, but we just don’t know what post lockdown life will look like yet.

“By having the scheme, it would really help bring people into the city earlier in the week.

“I really do want to see the eat out to help out scheme return, but it would need to be reviewed constantly and should only be brought back when it is safe to do so.

“To continue helping businesses, I want to see the business rates holiday extended along with the VAT increases for another year to really help hospitality businesses first.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And Paul Butcher, owner of the Stanley Arms pub added: “Pubs and restaurants really need a big helping hand at the moment, so if the government can continue with offering the business rates holidays and keep the five per cent VAT on food, it would really be of benefit to venues after the lockdown.

“When the numbers of Covid transmissions go down far enough, then bringing in another Eat Out To Help Out scheme would be fantastic for businesses to encourage people to spend their money especially during quiet periods.

“There are measures we would like to see put in place first. People should not be mixing in large numbers and if so, the rates would just rise again so I don’t think this scheme should be brought back straight away.

“We have been faced with rules, regulations, new schemes and risk assessments changing constantly without much guidance.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“The lockdowns have been so difficult for this industry, that we need to get this right this time.

“We would rather have simple guidelines to stick to that we can commit to so that these businesses can dig themselves out of the holes they are in.”

Mark Whittle, manager of Preston BID said: “Eat Out To Help Out was a lifeline to many hospitality businesses during the summer of 2020. Since then, local businesses have had almost full-time restrictions to contend with, especially those in the hospitality sector.

“In order to secure their businesses for the long term, a strong sector re-opening plan, which includes additional support measures, is needed from the government, which amongst other things, could include similar schemes.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Non-essential retailers and other services such as hairdressers are also waiting to hear about when they can begin trading again.

John Corrigan, owner of Alan Joyce Hair Design, said his salon was a ‘safe environment that is ready to open up again.’

He said: “What I would like to hear from the expected government announcement is some clear time frames of when we can expect to reopen.

“I appreciate these timings will be dependent on ever-changing data, but at least it gives us something to aim for.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“It is also important that whilst we are eager to get back to work, it is on the understanding clients feel comfortable the risk is at an ultimate low.

“We as a salon will continue to make our workplace a safe environment for staff as well as clients, but these measures need to be underpinned by government reassurances.

“We are really grateful for the financial support that our staff and the business has had from the government, and after lockdown restrictions are lifted, we hope people can feel encouraged to come out to the city centre and support small businesses. A lot of businesses have suffered because they haven’t seen the same level of foot traffic into Preston which then has a knock-on effect on other industries.

“It is important that people are shown some incentive to come into the city centre because all the businesses will prosper and feed off one another.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Support us and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news, the latest football stories and new puzzles every day. With a digital subscription, you can see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.