In its reactive approach to mandating restrictions, the government is “two or three weeks behind every time” when it comes to providing the accompanying support, Graffiti Spirits co-founder Matt Farrell has said.

Speaking at MCA’s The Conversation, Farrell, whose Liverpool-based bar group has been subject to tier 3 restrictions since 14 October, said the government’s lack of clarity and strategy has left businesses in the region “very worried,” and without the financial aid they desperately need.

“We’re still not really in a position of knowing any support,” he said. “The losses that have been endured by us and a lot of other people in these last two weeks have been catastrophic, and people need help now.

“Clear messaging and support should always come when the announcements come, they should come at the same time. But the government keep doing the same thing, which obviously just gives an impression of a lack of strategy.”

Since March, of Graffiti Spirits’ 10 sites the business has only opened four, with most of its late-night estate considered unviable in the current trading environment.

With two of its restaurants, its coffee concept and Duke Street Market still trading, Farrell said he felt “quite lucky” the business was able to produce a degree of cashflow despite enduring the highest restriction level, but for many operators a complete temporary closure is the preferable option.

“People who have one or two sites and are realising their businesses aren’t viable with the lack of protection must be really worried,” he said. “People seem to want to be closed with support, rather than open without it. That’s what everyone’s trying to bang the drum to.”

And this could be an opinion shared by certain businesses facing the slightly less draconian tier 2 measures too, suggested Alchemist CEO Simon Potts.

With sites from Portsmouth to Liverpool, The Alchemist is in the complex position of having to navigate conditions for all three tiers across its estate.

And whilst the businesses can remain “pretty viable” in tier 1 by implementing different cost measures, payment plans and rebasing areas of the business, Potts explained that the jump to tier 2 is significant.

Businesses forced to close in tier 3 are eligible for the expanded Job Support Scheme and the Local Restrictions Support Grant, but those in tier 2 – facing the 10pm curfew and rule of six, coupled with the additional indoor ban on household mixing – do not receive the same degree of financial aid.

“In tier 1 it’s just about manageable,” he said. “When you move into tier 2 the restrictions are so significant that it really starts to strangulate the business.”

Echoing Farrell’s frustration with the government’s seemingly improvised strategy, Potts said that a serious concern going forward is the sectors ability to weather this ever-increasing stream of setbacks.

“You could kind of understand measures like the curfew coming in or the restrictions on household gatherings if we were coming from a standing start,” he said. “But we all worked extremely hard to put these covid-secure measures in place, and the government are just continually suffocating our ability to drive any kind of profitability.

“We know as a sector that were incredibly resilient. The work that was done during the deep lockdown period and then the trading summer showed our ability to react.

“But the uncertainty is now bleeding into our resilience, and there’s a lot of fatigue setting in.

“It’s so important that we have a clear path for what releases you from one tier to the next so we can work that through, because at the moment we’re in a perpetual state of limbo.”

Topics