London’s West End was deserted last night as the true scale of the crisis facing the hospitality industry became clear amid fears that a third of bars, pubs and clubs in the night-time industry could close within the next month.
Hospitality venues are facing a ‘cataclysmic Christmas’ as bosses call for urgent financial support following a rise of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 – but there are hopes the Government could announce a rescue package today.
Underground trains and roads in the capital were again empty this morning, with workers staying at home and TomTom data showing London had its quietest morning rush hour since the first day of the third lockdown.
The congestion level for 8am to 9am today was 19 per cent, which is the lowest for that period on a working week-day – including school holidays, but excluding bank holidays – since January 4, when the third lockdown began.
The level in London has fallen 49 percentage points from 68 per cent in just a week, while Birmingham has dropped 57 percentage points from 74 per cent to 17 per cent when compared to the same time period last week.
Major weekly falls have also been seen in Leeds, down 29 points from 47 per cent to 17 per cent; Liverpool, down 27 points from 60 per cent to 33 per cent; and Manchester, down 36 points from 59 per cent to 23 per cent.
It comes as a Minister said that the Government will ‘say more’ about its discussions with business leaders calling for more Covid financial support later today – as rumours build over a possible post-Christmas lockdown.
In other Covid-19 news:
- New restrictions are unlikely to stop Christmas Day celebrations but could come in from December 28;
- The Queen abandoned her Christmas plans at Sandringham and will instead stay at Windsor Castle;
- London Mayor Sadiq Khan cancelled the capital’s New Year’s Eve celebrations at Trafalgar Square;
- The Welsh Government has said sporting events will be played behind closed doors from Boxing Day.
A very quiet road in London’s West End last night as people stay at home with just days to go until Christmas
Empty tables and chairs at a restaurant in London’s West End last night as the hospitality sector faces another crisis
A sparsely-populated restaurant in London’s West End last night as the hospitality trade continues to suffer
Only two men can be seen sat a table inside this branch of Caffe Concerto in London’s West End yesterday evening
Two people stand outside The French House pub on Dean Street in London’s Soho yesterday evening
Christmas lights run above a street in London’s West End last night where very few people are seen out in the area
The entrance gates are closed to a shopping arcade in London’s West End yesterday evening
Upturned bar stools are seen on tables inside this cafe in London’s West End yesterday evening
Very few people are seen sitting outside in London’s West End last night as Britons stay at home
When asked about measures to help businesses struggling this Christmas due to Covid restrictions, Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay told BBC Breakfast: ‘The Chancellor was talking to industry leaders about this very issue last night. We will say more about this later today.
‘We recognise obviously we are keen to keep businesses open and businesses should continue to plan for the bookings they have. We absolutely recognise that through Plan B and the behaviour change there has been an impact on those bookings.’
Widespread train cancellations as Covid-19 causes staff shortages
Rail operators have blamed coronavirus-related staff shortages for widespread cancellations during the Christmas getaway, with a number of firms on reduced timetables due to workers being off sick or isolating.
CrossCountry said it is ‘expecting widespread disruption to our services this week’. It went on: ‘Please pull your journey forward to sooner rather than later to get to your end destination as early as possible.’
Dozens of trains are being cancelled by the company each day, and many others have fewer carriages than usual.
Cancellations have been made on several of its routes, including Manchester to Bournemouth via Birmingham; Bristol to Paignton, Devon; Cardiff to Nottingham; and Birmingham to Stansted Airport.
Avanti West Coast told passengers: ‘The pandemic is unfortunately resulting in some staff shortages. We’re doing everything we can to run our full timetable but there may be some short-notice cancellations.’
The firm has removed all peak ticket restrictions over the Christmas period in a bid to spread demand.
Govia Thameslink Railway said a train crew shortage means there will be a reduced service across the Southern, Thameslink and Great Northern network until the end of the day on Christmas Eve.
Greater Anglia said it has removed trains from its timetables due to falling passenger numbers ‘as people follow advice to work from home’.
Northern said it is operating amended timetables due to ‘Covid and crew unavailability and major engineering works’. Disruption is expected to continue until at least January 3.
ScotRail is running an amended service on several routes until further notice due to Covid-19 related illness.
TransPennine Express said delays and short-notice cancellations over the next fortnight are due to ‘a lack of available staff caused by industrial relations issues’.
He added that there would be ‘economic consequences’ to further Covid restrictions, and said Parliament is not yet due to be recalled to discuss new measures.
Mr Barclay said: ‘The Prime Minister has given a commitment that where there are additional regulations bought forward that Parliament would be recalled in order that Members of Parliament can scrutinise and debate those issues, but we are not at that stage.
‘We are looking closely at the data and we need to recognise there are economic consequences to further restrictions.’
He added: ‘There is much that we still don’t know but we are still looking at that data on what are very finely-balanced decisions.’
Peter Marks, chief executive at Rekom, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that running a nightclub has been ‘really tough’ and called for ministers to cut VAT for venue entry. He added: ‘If we have restrictions we need money to survive.’
A survey by the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) of more than 500 nightclubs, bars, pubs and hospitality venues has today revealed that the sector faces a ‘cataclysmic Christmas’.
One fifth of nightlife businesses could lose their entire workforce, and one third fear closure within a month without urgent Government support following new Covid restrictions and omicron uncertainty.
On average, night time economy venues have lost £46,000 per unit in lost sales and cancellations during the festive period.
Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame, told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme that his chain saw a ‘significant drop’ in footfall in London.
Over half of businesses required to introduce Covid Certification for entry to their premises report witnessing over a 40 per cent drop in footfall.
And half of all businesses in the night time economy will have to cut over half of jobs in their workforce if the Government does not provide commensurate financial support.
Mr Marks added: ‘We can’t say how much the problem of shrinkage we’ve had in the last few days has been down to vaccine passports and whether it’s been down to the fear of going out.
‘What I can tell you is we’re running at 40 per cent down at a period of time which is absolutely critical for us as a business, starting at next weekend thinking well we’re probably okay until Christmas now albeit limping along but may not even be opening New Year’s Eve which is worth about 8 to 10 per cent of our annual profit.’
He said Rekom’s staff are on standby without clarity on whether nightclubs will be open following Christmas.
‘Stock is another thing,’ he added. ‘Do you order stock ready for New Year’s Eve and suddenly find it’s going to sit in the cellar because you’ve closed? It’s impossible to plan for.’
Some restaurants and bars in the West End, pictured last night, are closing up early and some have shut altogether
No one is to be seen outside this hospitality venue in London’s West End last night with the area deserted
Chairs are piled up and tables pushed to the side in London’s West End last night amid a crisis for hospitality venues
Very few people are seen out and about in London’s West End last night with only four days to go until Christmas
Deserted streets in London’s West End yesterday evening as people stay at home
Small numbers of people walk around London’s West last night as Britons stay at home over Covid-19 fears and illness
Few people can be seen inside Mexican restaurant El Pastor in London’s West End yesterday evening
‘We need help and the best thing you could do for nightclubs is include door admission in the reduced VAT position that you’ve given to pubs and restaurants that sell food and that’s encouraged survival there.
New moves to cancel Christmas celebrations are unlikely despite surge
New restrictions are unlikely to stop Christmas celebrations this week but Boris Johnson has urged caution amid speculation further measures will be needed to halt the spread of the Omicron variant.
But as the Prime Minister promised to keep the data under constant review, the Queen abandoned her Christmas at Sandringham and London mayor Sadiq Khan cancelled the capital’s New Year’s Eve celebrations.
After a special two-hour meeting of the Cabinet on Monday, the Prime Minister said the Government needs to be clearer about the rate of hospital admissions associated with Omicron, and the effectiveness of vaccines against it, before imposing additional measures in England to prevent the spread of the virus.
But Boris Johnson said the Government will ‘reserve the possibility’ of implementing new restrictions, causing opposition politicians to accuse him of lacking a clear plan.
The Financial Times said a senior Government insider told the paper: ‘We are not planning to introduce new restrictions this side of Christmas’.
But although Mr Johnson stopped short of imposing new official restrictions, the Prime Minister said the Government wants people to focus on ‘exercising caution’.
The Queen has now decided to spend Christmas in Windsor rather than to travel to Sandringham in what one royal source said was a precautionary approach.
And London Mayor Sadiq Khan later announced the cancellation of the capital’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Trafalgar Square ‘in the interests of public safety’.
Meanwhile the Welsh Government has said sporting events will be played behind closed doors from Boxing Day to help control the spread of the new Omicron variant.
Labour, which has said it would support the Government over any further public health measures that were needed, accused the Prime Minister of putting party interests before the country.
Shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said Boris Johnson was failing to set out a ‘clear plan’, saying the Prime Minister is instead choosing to ‘protect himself from his own MPs by simply not saying anything’.
And Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said that Mr Johnson had offered only ‘chaos’ at a time when the country needed clarity.
‘Families want to know urgently what Covid measures to expect, so they can plan for the days ahead. Ducking the difficult decisions is not a plan,’ he said.
Esther McVey, Conservative MP for Tatton and a former minister, tweeted to say the Government ‘are now listening to their backbench MPs and for once pushed back on the scaremongering by the lockdown fanatics’.
Government sources reported by The Times said the focus would be on restrictions after Christmas, with a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ banning household mixing being considered for December 28.
The Prime Minister said the arguments for taking action in response to Omicron were ‘very, very finely balanced’ and that the Government is keeping the data under ‘constant review’.
He said there were still ‘uncertainties’ around the severity of the new strain, as well as the rate of hospital admissions associated with it, and its impact on the effectiveness of the vaccines.
‘There are still some things that we need to be clearer about before we decide to go further,’ he said.
Mr Johnson added: ‘Unfortunately I must say to people that we will have to reserve the possibility of taking further action to protect the public, to protect public health, to protect our NHS.
‘We are looking at all kinds of things to keep Omicron under control and we will rule nothing out.
‘But at the moment, what I think we want people to focus on is exercising caution – so ventilation, masks in the appropriate places, all the usual stuff about washing hands, but remember how contagious Omicron really is.’
Ministers were briefed on the latest situation by the Government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty.
‘That’s a very easy way you can target nightclubs and live music venues and help them. It needs backdating.’
Mr Neame, said outlets have seen profits fall by 60 to 70 per cent.
He said: ‘There were a lot of cancellations from the point the suggestion was made that people should restrict their socialising.
‘At the moment we’re still hanging on if you like by a knifeedge to the hope that community pubs can keep their Christmas. Christmas for them tends to start at the end of this week and go between Christmas and New Year. It’s a very precarious situation.’
He said the company was still taking deliveries but was operating ‘hour by hour’ as he called for more Government support.
‘I’d prefer to stay open under any costs but there is a case for compensations now. Closure has terrific waste associated with it,’ he added.
‘When you close there’s no certainty when you might reopen again. The comments from Professor Whitty are already the circumstances where the trade needs further support because they’ve changed consumer behaviour, they’ve changed consumer confidence.
‘What we’re asking for is an extension to the VAT relief that exists at the moment to the end of 2022 and cancellation of rates. There’s also £2billion in grants that were issues to local authorities that have not yet been distributed for the previous lockdowns and they should be released immediately.’
He said the situation was ‘extremely demoralising’ and praised business for staying afloat.
‘Businesses have done remarkable well to keep going. We still do not think the evidence is there for hospitality to be treated with restrictions.’
Phil Urban, chief executive of Mitchells and Butlers, told the BBC ‘many in our industry are really going to be up against it’.
He added: ‘From the moment Chris Whitty said what he said it’s the city centres that are particularly impacted.
‘We are in broad stakes and it’s city centres we’ve seen a drop off in trade. Loss of corporate parties you would expect at this time of year. It is a critical trading time for the sector. Many in our industry are really going to be up against it.
‘Typically the industry would be staffing up for Christmas. There have been issues with that. The sector lost a lot of people during the lockdowns. We’re fortunate we’ve been able to get to the numbers of teams we want, but at local level it can be very problematic.’
Michael Kill, chief executive of the NTIA, said: ‘It really is a chilling prospect to see so many venues in our sector left to bleed, with a lockdown in everything but name and absolutely no recognition of this from the Government.
‘These venues have faced over twenty months of financial hardship and the Christmas trade period was integral to keeping those surviving businesses afloat in the upcoming year.
‘If further restrictions are to be implemented, the Chancellor must step in and recognise the huge damage that waves of cancellations, driven by mixed Government messaging, resource intensive Covid protocols and costly restrictions actually have.
‘The Government have had twenty months to learn how our sector operates; it is beggars belief we stand here again, as if back in March 2020, imploring the Government to listen to us, to understand how businesses work and to realise that inaction is a death sentence for our industry. It really is a Cataclysmic Christmas.’
And Sacha Lord, Night Time Economy Advisor for Greater Manchester, said: ‘Whilst shocking and upsetting, these latest stats don’t come as much surprise.
‘The industry have been unanimously calling on the Chancellor for both support and leadership. To date, our calls have fallen on deaf ears and for some, it is already too late. If the UK’s fifth biggest industry has any hope of survival, he must come forward, urgently.’
The Christmas plans of thousands were also thrown into potential chaos after one in four rail operators cancelled services yesterday because of staff illness.
On what would typically have been one of the busiest tourism weeks of the year, the Natural History Museum closed yesterday owing to staff absences because of the ten-day isolation requirement.
It was joined by a string of other London museums and art galleries as well as Edinburgh Castle.
Meanwhile, West End shows including The Lion King and The Book of Mormon were also cancelled for a week because of Covid outbreaks among cast and crew, and performances of The Nutcracker at the Royal Opera House have been called off until January.
No one is seen on the street outside the Duke of Argyll pub in London’s West End yesterday evening
Only a handful of people enjoy an evening out at this restaurant in London’s West End last night
A very quiet street in London’s West End yesterday evening as people stay at home to avoid catching Covid-19
Small numbers of people mill around in London’s West End yesterday evening with the area left almost deserted
An almost empty street in London’s Soho last night as the West End district has been left deserted in recent days
Boarded up shops and very few people around on this street in the West End of London yesterday evening
Empty chairs and empty tables outside this restaurant in London’s West End yesterday evening
An almost empty street in London’s West End district yesterday evening as people stay at home
Theatre impresario Sir Cameron Mackintosh told the BBC: ‘Whether we’re shut by the Government or shut by stealth because of all the mixed messages… the Government does need to step in and help.’
His call came as the capital’s New Year’s Eve celebration planned for Trafalgar Square was cancelled ‘in the interests of public safety’.
Pubs, restaurants and bars recorded a 40 per cent slump in sales at the weekend while the owner of the Greene King chain said some sites were down 80 per cent on pre-pandemic levels.
Emma McClarkin, of the British Beer and Pub Association, said Government caution over the Omicron variant – with the introduction of Plan B measures such as working from home – had caused public confidence to ‘nosedive’.
‘Our recovery has been set back by at least six months,’ she added. ‘We are right back to square one – it is like snakes and ladders.’
Simon Emeny, of pub chain Fuller, Smith and Turner, announced at the weekend he had decided to close 20 of its busiest London venues because of a lack of footfall.
A very quiet Oxford Circus in London’s West End shopping district this morning as people stay at home
Commuters pass through London Waterloo train station this morning as the Omicron Covid variant surges in the capital
London King’s Cross is very quiet this morning as trains wait to depart for the North East of England and Scotland
A small number of people look at information boards on the concourse of London King’s Cross train station this morning
The empty staircases leading to London King’s Cross St Pancras stations on the Underground network this morning
A very quiet Northern line platform at Euston station on the London Underground this morning
An empty Picadilly line carriage on the London Underground network this morning as people stay at home
Oxford Street is very quiet this morning as Londoners stay at home with just four days to go until Christmas
An empty passageway during rush hour this morning at London King’s Cross St Pancras station on the Underground
People walk past the Natural History Museum in South Kensington in West London today which is shut due to ‘staff shortages’
This TomTom congestion graph shows how traffic levels have plunged in London over the past week
This Apple mobility index shows how different forms of transport have all fallen in London in recent days
He said yesterday: ‘The Plan B advice is damaging city centres. The Christmas party season has been severely curtailed.
‘Once people have had a booster there is no reason they shouldn’t get on with their lives. If Plan B is kept any longer than necessary it will halt our recovery.’
It is feared one in ten pubs – around 5,000 – have had to close permanently since the start of the pandemic, with a slump in Christmas takings potentially signalling a death knell for many more.
This week Michelin-starred restaurant Portland was among dozens in the capital to announce it was closing until January with customer numbers slumping.
Industry body UKHospitality said up to 10,000 sites could close permanently without urgent Government support. Chief executive Kate Nicholls called for an extension to business rates relief.
Andrew Taylor, who owns gastropub Mr Fox in Croydon, South London, which has faced an 80 per cent drop in bookings, said: ‘Hospitality is locked down in all but name. It is going to cause thousands of businesses to close and tens of thousands of job losses.’
The number of confirmed cases of Omicron in England increased by 69 per cent on the previous day’s total – up 9,427 to 23,168, figures from the UKHSA showed today
Covid hospital admissions have spiked by more than a third in a week in Britain’s Omicron hotspot of London, official data shows
It came as next week’s episodes of ITV’s breakfast show Good Morning Britain were axed to ‘protect’ staff amid fears over Omicron. It will return on January 4.
London’s New Year’s Eve celebration event in Trafalgar Square will not take place because of the surge in cases of the Omicron Covid variant in the capital.
London mayor Sadiq Khan has said the event, which was set to be open to around 6,500 key workers and members of the public, had to be cancelled because ‘we must take the right steps to reduce the spread of the virus’.
He declared a major incident in London on Saturday amid 65,525 new confirmed cases in the past seven days and the impact of the surge on frontline services.
A 29 per cent increase in London hospital admissions had also been recorded in the last week.
THIRD of bars, pubs and clubs could close by NYE: Hospitality bosses plead for CLARITY