Recommendations being put forward to government on how to tackle the growing issue of rent debt are broadly in line with what UKHospitality and its members have been asking for, according to its director of strategic affairs Tony Sophoclides.

Speaking to host, and MCA contributing editor, Peter Martin, he said that although there was not a great deal to update, the little it had heard was “fairly positive”.

“As always with this issue, the clock is ticking ever faster towards the next rent day […] but the one glint of positivity is that we are at least at the stage now where officials are taking recommendations to them (government),” he said.

“But there is a small window in which to come up with a solution to something that has proven so intractable, so I think we’d have to be looking at another moratorium extension.”

Sophoclides said it would be “absolutely perverse” of the government to get to the point when the sector is, hopefully, back to full trading on 21 June, and with so much investment having been put in, for businesses to then fail due to the lack of a solution on rent debt.

Fellow panellist Martin Wolstencroft, chief executive, Arc Inspirations, said it had found the situation “a mixed bag” when it came to negotiations with landlords. The northern bar operator managed to negotiate three months rent free with some landlords at the beginning of the pandemic, but others have given them nothing. For those he has managed to negotiate improved rent deals on, this has often been achieved by extending the lease by five years, for example, he said.

“We have deferred quite a lot, so overall I think we have done very well. But I can’t see any more help coming down the line in terms of rent,” he said, adding that if the government was going to do something, they would have done it by now.

Peter Marks, chief executive, Rekom UK, said he couldn’t believe the government hadn’t sorted something out on the rent issue by now. “They have kicked the can down the road so often they need a new pair of shoes.”

On the situation for Rekom UK, which was formed after the sale of Deltic to Nordic operator Rekom last year, Marks said that some landlords had been really understanding, but others were “using it to get the very best deal out of us”.

He is in favour of the Australian rent relief model and said it would offer operators’ protection. Businesses could have done everything they could to ensure they are in the best shape for survival only to fall at the rent debt hurdle: “You may have as well have pulled up your stumps last March.”