Yesterday's reopening announcements from Wales’ First Minister have been welcomed by the Welsh Independent Restaurant Collective (WIRC) – a group representing more than 400 Welsh hospitality member businesses who have been lobbying for a roadmap to viable trading with a #wereinthedarkmark social media campaign.
But the WIRC “continues to press for certainty and support” at a time when there is no longer any funding in place to support them while they remain closed, and when Wales continues to lag the rest of the UK in re-opening.
The WIRC was set up in May 2020 to address the challenges of the Covid lockdown for independent restaurants, cafes, pubs and bars across Wales. It has been influential in carrying the case for hospitality to Welsh Government over the past year, speaking on behalf of what are often very small, family-run businesses who might not normally have a voice.
Wales’ First Minister today announced that hospitality venues may open outside from 26th April, as long as health conditions allow. But according to recent member surveys conducted by the WIRC, 60% of Welsh independent venues will be unable to open due to the lack of outside space.
Indoor hospitality was outlined for late May, but it is likely that this will still be under strict restrictions – which constrain businesses’ ability to trade profitably. More certainty over conditions would have allowed business to give jobs to those who need them, begin ordering stock and to get the wheels of the economy turning.
Assuming a viable opening at the end of May, hospitality businesses in Wales will have been effectively closed for 46 weeks out of 61 weeks. WIRC warns that without direct funding from the Government, these hospitality businesses will simply go out of business.
In spite of repeated Government attempts to change the narrative by insisting it was intended to cover costs until mid-May, businesses’ most recent support was originally designed to cover some costs until 31 March.
As it is, businesses will now see no funding to support them over April and May while they remain effectively closed, at a time when competitors in England and Scotland are able to access “restart grants” of up to £18,000.
Simon Wright, owner of Wright’s Food Emporium said “Welsh Government decided to exclude businesses with less than 10 employees from the latest major round of funding. That is frankly most of the independent restaurants, cafes and pubs in Wales. And for them to go into the election saying that any further funding will have to wait for the next administration is not far short of negligent. Government makes the decision to keep us closed: it must also make the decision to fund us.”
Natalie Isaac, of the 44 Group in Cardiff, commented, “It’s good that we will begin to see some hospitality opening. But many of us have virtually no outdoor space and will only be able to open when we can open inside as well. Where we operate here in Cardiff, I know that regulated space such as ours can play a huge part in making sure that the re-opening of society is done in a controlled and well-managed way.”
Edmund Inkin, owner of the Felin Fach Griffin near Brecon, commented, “On Sunday, the First Minister told Andrew Marr he would today be ‘giving the sector the certainty that it is looking for’. From our side of the fence, this is not the certainty we need to recruit staff at a time when our English competitors are preparing to re-open. And it is certainly not the certainty people need in terms of funding over what is likely to be 8 or 9 weeks of further closure”.