A three-way shared rent payment would be a “sensible route in the short term”, Pizza Express managing director Zoe Bowley has said.

Bowley told attendees at MCA’s The Conversation that since it became apparent businesses would be closed, and therefore unable to pay rent, for at least two quarters, she’s “been of the firm belief” that rent should be covered by “the operator, the landlord and the Government, to ensure parity and fairness.”

Whilst she is “absolutely supportive” of long-term rent reform to “shift the balance of power,” she said that wider reform must be differentiated from the immediate short-term situation, where no single party should be expected to cover the total rent costs.

“This is about a statement of intent that there should be shared pain, as opposed to one party taking the burden,” she said.

In the same way that operators have no means to pay the rent bill through closure, she explained that “equally for some of those landlords the rent is their livelihood, so for them to take two quarters of no rent feels draconian as well.”

“We’ve got 400 landlords and they all have different financial set ups so it’s very difficult to generalise.”

And with several months of uncertainty ahead, “there needs to be some element of risk share going forward,” added Jamie Barber, Hush Brasseries CEO and the event’s second panellist.

Barber said that although getting past the June quarter is a necessary step, the number of unknown variables to consider post-June makes planning for reopening very difficult to manage.

“We don’t know if there’s going to be a second wave,” he said, “we don’t know if there’s going to be a complete shift in behaviour patterns, which would mean it would be a very long time before we get back to normal trading.”

“So, there’s going to have to be a partnership with landlord’s going forward that’s over and above this coming quarter. I think it’s going to have to be a longer-term play.”

Referring to rent as “the number one outstanding issue that needs to be addressed,” UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls informed attendees that they should expect to hear from Government on the Insolvency Bill – which will include details about a debt enforcement moratorium – this week.

The trade body has also submitted requests to Government for a national timeout on rent as well as an operator/landlord intervention in the form of a ministerial summit.

“We’ve asked government to intervene urgently,” she said, because the rent issues “affects the here and now, it affects the restart, and it affects the revival of our businesses.”

“There’s a growing recognition by all sides and all stakeholders that unless there is a degree of government compulsion to this, it won’t be resolved.”

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