Wigan reacts to delay in easing Covid-19 restrictions

The move has been greeted with a mixture of disappointment, resignation and concern in the borough.

Wednesday, 16th June 2021, 4:45 am

Prime minister Boris Johnson announced on Monday evening that the planned loosening of regulations on June 21, which had been dubbed Freedom Day by some, had been pushed back four weeks until July 19.

There was immediate concern for the sectors most affected by the move, including hospitality, weddings and travel.

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Michael Pagett at Morty's Sports Bar and Kitchen

The road map easing delay means pubs, restaurants, cinemas and many other venues will continue to face limits on numbers and distancing restrictions, while nightclubs will remain shut.

Furlough support currently allows businesses impacted by the pandemic the ability to keep workers on with an 80 per cent wage subsidy from the state.

This is due to taper off from the end of this month, moving to a 70 per cent state subsidy supported by a 10 per cent employer contribution in July, tapering further before ending completely in September.

Hard-hit hospitality, leisure and retail firms have also benefited significantly from the current business rates holiday and ban on commercial evictions, which will also alter in the coming weeks.

Dean McDonald, licencee at the Crooke Hall Inn

They will pay no business rates until the end of this month, with this changing to a 67 per cent discount with a £2 million cap until the end of the financial year.

Meanwhile, commercial property evictions have been banned until the end of June and landlords will have the potential to take tenants to court again from next month for not paying rents despite some still being impacted by restrictions.

Greater Manchester’s night-time economy adviser Sacha Lord called the situation “a perfect storm”.

He said: “This is another bitter blow for the hospitality industry. A few days ago the prime minister was saying he could see nothing in the data to say we would be steering away from June 21 and businesses had been working towards that date based on his words.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy

“How can businesses that are shut pay business rates? They simply can’t. Some landlords are also circling. We have heard stories that they want their properties back.

“Sadly now I think we are going to see many evictions on July 1.”

Wigan businesses and consumer groups related to the hospitality sector explained starkly how difficult the current situation is.

They described the financial position bars and pubs are in and spoke of compliance fatigue among the public.

Michael Pagett, the owner of Reef Bar and Terrace, The Wiend Bar and Partyhaus Sports Arcade with Morty’s Sports Bar and Kitchen in Wigan, said: “The main feeling is just disappointment.

“A lot of people don’t seem that bothered about social distancing and we’re finding it hard to enforce it with table service.

“We had the football on at the Euros last Sunday and the takings across all four of our venues combined were less than we had just at Reef for the World Cup three years ago.

“We’re not getting capacity through the doors, it’s costing us as much if not more to open and we’re taking less.

“People are ready to go out, but they’ve been told they can’t do it.

“We saw three Covid deaths on Monday but we can’t open properly yet. We’ve got to draw a line somewhere.”

Dean McDonald, licencee at the Crooke Hall Inn, said: “I was expecting the delay but from our point of view it is a pain.

“I was hoping to reopen the kitchen on Father’s Day and I’m still going to do that because I’ve got bookings but then I will only open the kitchen with restrictions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“I’ve been doing limited hours with food vans over the weekends which has worked OK but everybody is trying to book tables and waiting for the kitchen and full menu.

“It will cost me money because I’ve got to clean up and bring chefs in then put them back on part-furlough.

“I’ve also had a stream of function cancellations and I’ve had to move charity events too.

“It’s a mess but at the end of it let’s hope we all come out of it alive.

“We’ve just got to keep being flexible but it is costing the industry a lot of money.”

Sandy Motteram, chair of Wigan Camra, said: “We are where we are. It’s not getting any easier for pubs at the moment with the uncertainty with whether dates are going to come or not.

“It is, of course, important that we keep cases down and look after the health and wellbeing of everybody.

“We’ve got to continue doing what we can to support pubs, breweries and clubs. That means making sure we follow the guidelines, because some people seem to be of the belief that this is all over and done with and are getting a bit too relaxed.

“We need to wear masks when inside and not at our tables, listen to the staff, be patient and spend money.”

There was disappointment at the delay across the political spectrum, although the Government also faced strong criticism from Labour MPs in the borough over border control.

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy said: “It’s deeply disappointing that the Government has had to postpone the easing of lockdown measures.

"The Prime Minister’s long delays in putting in place the necessary restrictions at the border were a catastrophe that allowed the Delta variant to enter Britain and has set back the incredible progress made by people locally and across the country to get the vaccination programme rolled out.

“Wigan has been subject to the strictest Covid restrictions for longer than almost any part of the country.

“We continue to do everything asked of us to keep ourselves and each other safe and protect our NHS but the Government’s refusal to heed the warning and get a grip of our borders has cost our families, communities and businesses dearly."

Makerfield MP Yvonne Fovargue said: “The PM allowed the Delta variant to reach the UK when he should have closed the border sooner. As a result the country will now have to face an extension of restrictions.

“It is vital that the vaccination programme continues at a pace and that we get as many people jabbed as possible over the next four weeks. We have to accept that Covid-19 will be with us, like the flu, for a long time to come and we simply cannot continue restricting the freedoms we have enjoyed.

“We must open up and I would be unlikely to support further restrictions post July.”

James Grundy, the Conservative MP for Leigh, said he was starting a survey on his website to gauge local views.

He said: “The Government has made the decision to hold off for another month on lifting restrictions in order to allow more people to be vaccinated and have second doses amid rising cases of the Delta variant.

“However, I know many residents will be unhappy with this decision, with some hoping to celebrate weddings or host larger events in the coming weeks, and I understand your frustrations.

"Therefore, I am asking for your thoughts on the decision to delay lockdown easing for another month.”

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