Less than a month after asking for Tier 2 restrictions to be imposed county council calls for end to 10pm curfew

The Government has been asked to make changes to support schemes for the hospitality sector by Essex County Council – including scrapping 10pm curfew hours.

The council has however welcomed economic support for businesses in Tier Two areas, including a new grant scheme for businesses that have been impacted by Tier Two restrictions, even if they have not been forced to close.

Local authorities will be funded so that they can provide cash grants to local businesses. It would be up to local authorities to decide how best to distribute the grants.

There will also be a more generous Job Support Scheme where employees now have to work 20 per cent of normal hours, as opposed to 33 per cent previously.

The government will be doubling the next round of self-employed income support from 20 per cent to 40 per cent of people’s incomes. Increasing the maximum grant to £3,750.

In addition, following the latest announcement and due to the county’s move to the high local Covid-19 alert level, Essex’s hospitality, leisure and accommodation businesses are now able to secure government support of £2,100 per month, which was not available when the county was in the medium level.

Cabinet Member for Economic Growth, Cllr Tony Ball, said: “We welcome the Chancellor’s announcement today,  which will significantly support our local businesses, particularly those in the hospitality sector.

“I am pleased to see that many of the issues we lobbied the government on have been acted upon. However, we are not complacent and will continue working with our district partners and the business community to ensure they are continually supported and address whether any additional support is required.

“We understand the pressure that moving into high local Covid alert has put on local businesses, however in order to reduce the rate of infection, protect lives, the NHS and our local economy, the decision was completely necessary.

“We will continue to do all we can to support those in need during these unprecedented times.”

Essex County Council has also now received confirmation that it expects to receive £4.5million as a result of moving into high local Covid-19 alert level.

This funding will be specifically earmarked for supporting vulnerable groups and workplaces. The county council will now work through how and when this funding will be distributed.

Since September 27 all pubs, bars and restaurants in England must shut no later than 10pm.

Current Tier Two restrictions also prevent people from Essex from meeting friends or family in pubs and restaurants.

In a letter to Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, Tony Ball, said extending hospitality opening hours would increase revenue and reduce the amount of congregation at closing time.

Essex County Council asked the Government to move Essex into the higher tier of Covid-19 restrictions earlier in the month, which it says was a step necessary to reduce the number of deaths and hospitalisations and protect communities and businesses from the effects of a longer period of restrictions.

Nonetheless, moving to the higher tier is already putting significant pressure on a number of businesses, particularly the hospitality sector, Cllr Ball added.

The hospitality sector in Essex consists of some 3,000 businesses and directly supports 40,000 jobs in Essex, with a significant supply chain.

The new Coronavirus Jobs Support Scheme will start on November 1 and specifically targets support for viable jobs with employees working at least a third of their usual hours.

However, Cllr Ball said specific additional support is required for the hospitality sector in high tier areas.

Cllr Ball said that “without additional support we fear many viable jobs will be lost”.

He said that In high tier areas, such as the one Essex is now in, the Government needs to commit to a further extension of the current business rates relief for hospitality businesses and inclusion of their suppliers.

And while the council welcomes the extension of the temporary five per cent reduced rate of VAT for certain supplies of hospitality, hotel and holiday accommodation, and admissions to certain attractions to March 31 2021, Cllr Ball said the reduced rate should be extended to cover other elements that are impacted by the existing restrictions, such as event space bookings and to other sectors that have seen reductions in income.

He added that for jobs in the hospitality sector in high tier areas, the Government’s Coronavirus Job Support Scheme should match the provision in very high tier areas, given the particular impact of the restrictions on households mixing indoors.

He said: “That support must be available to businesses in November to enable them to pay wages of staff. Without this a number of jobs that were viable in the medium tier and will be viable after restrictions are lifted, will be lost.”

He also urged high tier operating costs grants to be introduced for businesses in the hospitality sector and their suppliers, replicating the local lockdown grant scheme, for the duration of the high tier restrictions being in place.

He added: “Government should enter into urgent discussions with local authorities on shared funding arrangement to ensure, together, we can support businesses in this crucial sector through this period.”

He added that there are also several specific steps that would help businesses beyond the hospitality sector which are being affected.

This includes ensuring banks are able to offer Coronavirus Business Investment Loans over ten years, in compliance with state aid rules, and reconsider small businesses’ ability to apply for Bounce Bank Loans for a second time, given the length of time restrictions have been in place.

However, it is his stance on the 10pm curfew on hospitality venues which he said should be removed or extended to at least 12pm that is the most eye-catching and coincides with other regional politicians – including the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan – calling for an end to the 10pm cut off.

Cllr Ball said: “Removing or extending trading hours not only increases trading hours for hospitality venues but also enables customers to leave at staggered times and will reduce people congregating together at the time of closing.

“The curfew risks being counterproductive, encouraging people to socialise in each other’s houses, away from the Covid-19 secure procedures in hospitality venues.

“Alternatively, flexibility should be given to local licensing authorities to make decisions in conjunction with directors of public health and local resilience forums to set local curfews.”

He also wants additional funding to be provided to business improvement districts in high tier areas and local authorities to be allowed to use unspent business grant funding to provide targeted support to businesses in Essex, impacted by the move to the high tier, rather than it being returned to the Treasury.

Essex County Council Leader David Finch, in a letter to Boris Johnson, said the actions would help protect jobs and businesses.

He said: “At Essex County Council we recognise the role we have to play in supporting our businesses.

“Alongside the request for Essex to move into the higher tier, on 13 October, I also announced an additional £5million of funding for our work to tackle these challenging economic conditions we face which will support our communities and businesses as part of our immediate response.

“We will be working with local firms and other partners to deliver targeted support quickly and promote our great Essex businesses and high streets.

“We will also put in place the foundations to drive the recovery through improved digital connectivity in homes and businesses across Essex and a new commercial investment fund that will focus on economic growth in Essex with up to £100million investment in commercial opportunities.

“However, this support will not be soon enough to address the impact of the additional restrictions on social gathering indoors, particularly on the hospitality sector in the county. This sector is vital to the Essex economy, comprising 3,000 businesses and directly supporting 40,000 jobs in Essex, with a significant supply chain.

“Without additional support we fear many viable jobs will be lost. We therefore call on the Government to provide additional support to the businesses of Essex impacted by the move to the high tier.

“Just as we are making great efforts to protect the lives of the 1.5million residents of Essex through the move to the higher tier, these actions are needed to protect their livelihoods – and ensure our businesses come through this crisis and are able to drive the prosperous future we all want to see.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter