Boris Johnson’s government has not had a great pandemic. Not only does the UK have one of the highest Covid death rates in Europe, but has also suffered one of the biggest falls in GDP.
The one area it can claim major success is, of course, in the roll of the vaccination programme. But many now fear the potential economic advantage that has brought will be dissipated if as a nation we remain in super cautious mode.
That’s why I’m increasingly coming round to the Sacha Lord and Hugh Osmond opinion that we need to fully open up business, and not just hospitality, as soon as possible.
Pubs, bars and restaurants have proved over the past week that they can trade safely and without incident outdoors. The only flash points seem to have involved political party leaders, either upsetting licensees or wandering around pub gardens without a mask talking to strangers, contrary to Government guidelines. That’s you prime minister.
May 17, when hospitality should be able to open up inside again, might only be a few weeks off, but June 21 when all restrictions should be lifted still seems an eternity away.
With new Covid cases, hospitalisations and deaths right down, and well over half the population vaccinated with at least one jab, the argument for easing restrictions not just on hospitality but the wider business world becomes more compelling.
While our European neighbours might have been lagging behind in the vaccination race, they are now catching up. The likes of France and Germany have also suffered less in terms of GDP loss, so have less damage to repair.
Britain needs to get cracking if it wants to get a head start in the global economic recovery stakes.
Like all businesses, hospitality companies need to plan for a changed world and trading landscape - but until the economy gets back into full swing, too many of their projections are going to be largely hypothetical.
Only when offices start to reopen will we actually see if the daily commute will return to anything like pre-pandemic levels, how many people will be working at least partly from home, whether the ‘white-collar three-day week’ becomes a reality in our big cities, and how many shopping malls and office blocks remain empty or only partially used. Those metrics will have a major impact on where operators choose to open, relocate or invest.
Real life data will give us a much clearer picture on a whole raft of issues from demand for delivery, to the robustness of the supply chain, to new consumer buying patterns, to scarcities in the workforce.
The Government can help too, of course, by providing more clarity on policy areas like opening up international travel. British business, and in turn large parts of hospitality, depends on it.
The economy cannot be simply switched back on. It will take time and adjustments for businesses to get up to speed. So the sooner that can start the better. The vaccination programme was meant to give the country the reassurance it needs to get back to work, or so many of us thought.
The health of the wider economy and the ability of business in general to gear up is going to be a major determining factor in how well Britain’s out-of-home food and drink market prospers. We are after all a service industry.
No-one wants to take unnecessary risks, but isn’t the case now growing for an early back to work call? With GDP down 10% last year, more than any G7 country, the size of the task ahead for UK plc cannot be under estimated.
So if anyone has Boris Johnson’s mobile number, you know what to do.
Peter Martin: Are we wasting precious time?
Boris Johnson’s government has not had a great pandemic. Not only does the UK have one of the highest Covid death rates in Europe, but has also suffered one of the biggest falls in GDP. The one area it can claim major success is, of course, in the roll of the vaccination programme. But many now fear the potential economic advantage that has brought will be dissipated if as a nation we remain in super cautious mode.