City centre could become 'a ghost town' without support
- Credit: archant
Opening bars and clubs will be like “starting again from scratch” an ex-club manager has said, as MPs call for more support for the industry as we leave Covid restrictions.
A cross-party group of 40 MPs has called on the chancellor to do more to support night-time businesses, or risk them facing “extinction”.
Their report, Covid 19 and UK Nightlife, focuses on pubs, bars, clubs, live music venues, supply chain businesses and self-employed people in the sector.
The group has recommended a series of measures, including extending the furlough scheme, VAT and business rate holidays and expanding grant coverage.
Glen Sarabi, who for 23 years managed multiple bars in Norwich, said the extra help was desperately needed.
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He said: “It’s great that this is what they want to be offered but these businesses are struggling now, there's still rents to pay, contributions for furlough, gas and electric.
“You can’t continue to sustain something when nothing is coming in.”
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Even when businesses reopen, Mr Sarabi said staff will need retraining because they have been off on furlough or new staff will be required to replace the ones who left.
“You are almost starting a night-time economy again from scratch,” he added.
“Even when places are allowed to reopen there’s all the stock loss – food and alcohol – there's been no financial compensation for having to throw that away.
“The businesses I was running, you are talking about £25,000 of stock lost there.”
Mr Sarabi said the issues didn’t just affect bar staff and managers, there was a knock-on effect hitting security, refuse collection and self-employed DJs.
“When a bar shuts it’s not just the bar staff out of a job, for everyone one job lost in hospitality it affects something like eight other people.
“These businesses have been hit through no fault of their own.”
Mr Sarabi recently left bar management a move he partly put down to covid, which he said had “catapulted” him into another industry.
And Mr Sarabi isn’t alone, the MP’s nightlife report found 85pc of people working in the night-time economy are considering leaving, while on average 37pc of businesses made their total workforce redundant.
However, not everyone thought more support was needed.
Paul, the owner of the Mojito Lounge in Kings Lynn, said while a business would not turn down any extra help he would be happy if furlough came to an end in April.
“I think the government has done a fantastic job in supporting all businesses,” he said.
“They have furloughed staff, they have done business rate and VAT holidays, they’ve put grants in place when we got to the stages where we couldn’t open.”
Paul said there had been expenses for making premises Covid-secure but businesses always faced expenses.
Adding: “If they stop paying furlough in April then they have done enough, I would be quite happy if they do or don’t.
"If they do it would be a bonus.”
Ciaran Moriarty, the owner of AudioEast, a sound engineering company working with venues and festivals across the region, also wanted to see more support, especially for suppliers who have been ineligible for other grants.
“It’s no good supporting the venues if don’t support the suppliers,” he said.
“The arts council funding, they said is available for technical workers but I don’t know anyone who has been accepted.”
Mr Moriaty said he expected to see a lot of the bigger companies go bust as a result of Covid, which will lead to a shortage of talent in the industry.
“This has always been an insecure job but Covid has made that true more than ever.”
Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South and member of the cross-party group, said: "I am hugely worried that if these businesses go under, our city-centre could become a ghost town.
“That's why our group is calling on the government to provide extra, targeted support for night-time economy workers and businesses.
“This needs to continues until the sector can fully re-open."