Bored now. Really, really bored.
At least I can still drown my sorrows at a local watering hole for the time being (as Property Week went to press, a full national lockdown was reportedly on the cards). I truly pity all those trapped in tier three of this highly unentertaining Covid-19 virtual reality game.
It’s not the poor folk who find themselves suddenly doing Sober October against their will who I really feel for, though. It’s the bloodied but unbowed hospitality operators for whom this could be the final nail in the coffin.
I am no advocate of letting the virus run wild, but where is the sense in battering areas with tier-three lockdowns just as pub and restaurant operators are starting to get back on their feet – and where’s the fairness, when other areas are not being hit as hard?
No one wants to play this sort of postcode lottery right now. No one can afford to, not when the stakes are so high. Many of the losers will not survive. The stark reality is that we could see much of the hospitality landscape decimated by this pandemic. For what? You can’t abolish death, as Tory MP Charles Walker wryly noted this week.
I have said from the start, as has esteemed Property Week columnist Steve Norris, that the cure could prove worse than the disease and so it has transpired in the hands of our increasingly clueless government and their scientific advisers (I’ll continue to take counsel from Private Eye’s medical columnist MD, thanks).
It is not just the areas hit by tier-three restrictions that face a dire future. If takings were already down to 60% as a result of social distancing measures, businesses could be looking at 40% to 50% with the 10pm curfew, says Davis Coffer Lyons’ Paul Tallentyre: “All of a sudden, you haven’t got a viable business.”
Those in city centres look particularly vulnerable. Pubs and bars in suburban areas where most people live (and now work again) are doing alright, some better than alright. The same cannot be said of those reliant on the once 24/7 economies of now largely deserted city centres and metropolitan areas. “London has been absolutely battered,” according to NewRiver’s Mark Davies, and although it was only subject to tier-one restrictions as Property Week went to press, you have to fear the worst when it has scored just 58.2 in Avison Young’s Return to Office index (100 indicating numbers are back to pre-lockdown levels) – one of the lowest scores in the country.
Parallels have inevitably been drawn with the Great Depression of the 1930s, when another generation of successful businesses went under through no fault of their own. But this is not the Great Depression. Successful businesses should not be going under in 2020. This is a health crisis. It should never have been allowed to trigger such an economic one.
Now the onus is on government to help businesses set to lose out just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The PM has promised financial support for employees of pubs and bars forced to close as a result of the latest measures. The sector is rightly demanding far wider measures, including business rates holidays. It is also calling for an end to the current 10pm closing time.
One thing’s for sure, if urgent action is not taken, many pubs will soon be calling last orders for the last time.