Hospitality

£10,000 Lockdown Fine Case Collapses – “Hundreds” More to Follow, Says Lawyer

Hundreds of restaurants and gyms hit with lockdown fines could see their fixed penalties revoked in the courts, a leading lawyer has suggested. MailOnline has more.

Twenty-three such cases have already collapsed so far, with more than 800 more having “strong cases” for potential appeals, solicitor advocate Lucinda Nicholls, of Nicholls & Nicholls explained.

Ms. Nicholls said gyms were particularly susceptible to fines due to confusing official guidelines – including regulations that said those with a BMI higher than 40 were “entitled to go to a gym for exercise”.

“Therefore gyms were allowed to be open for that category of customer,” she told the Times. 

Now legal experts across the country have accused official bodies of showing ignorance for the exceptions to lockdown restrictions that saw businesses wrongly hit with financial penalties.

The developments come after a gym owner who faced a £10,000 fine for keeping his gym open during the second lockdown saw the “flimsy” and “inept” case against him dropped.

Alex Lowndes, who owns Gainz Fitness and Strength in Bedford and St Neots in Cambridgeshire, refused to close his gym in November 2020 after COVID-19 restrictions were imposed. Mr Lowndes’ establishment was subsequently raided by police and he was charged with a breach of lockdown regulations, which he denied.

The businessman failed to pay the fixed penalty notice and was due to stand trial last March, however his case, defended by Ms. Nicholls, collapsed after the authority failed to gather sufficient evidence to prosecute.

Bedford Borough Council said the case was in the “public interest”, they enforced the rules at the time and that there was “ample evidence for a successful prosecution”. 

The CPS has said each lockdown fine would be considered on its individual merits. 

Mr Lowndes told the BBC: “They [the council] should have looked at it even six months in and gone ‘this is a waste of time’. But they kept going and they kept going, they brought in an external barrister, they kept spending money, and it just got out of control.”

He added: “[Contesting the case] was based on principle. We should never have shut in the first place and we stand by what we did at the time.”

Worth reading in full.

Too Many in Politics and the Civil Service Had No ‘Skin in the Game’ When They Destroyed Livelihoods and Frightened the Nation into Compliance

Businessman and journalist Luke Johnson (who is one of the Daily Sceptic‘s directors) has given a must-watch interview to Jeffrey Peel on his New Era website. Jeffrey writes:

Luke Johnson has been the force behind many of the U.K.’s most successful hospitality and retail businesses. Early in lockdown Luke appeared on BBC Question Time and was one of the first leading business people to question lockdown as a response to the COVID-19 outbreak. In this video I gave Luke the chance to elaborate on his view that too many in politics and the Civil Service had little or no “skin in the game” when they were making decisions to destroy livelihoods and to frighten the nation into compliance.

Luke argues, very effectively, that lockdowns were so devastating a means of ‘controlling’ a virus that they should never be contemplated again.

Watch it here.

Rishi Sunak Offers £1 Billion Rescue Package to Hospitality Sector

Pubs, restaurants and leisure businesses hit by omicron losses will be eligible for one-off grants of up to £6,000 in a £1 billion Christmas aid package announced by Rishi Sunak earlier today. Hospitality bosses say it’s too little, too late. The Telegraph has more.

The Chancellor said some 200,000 hospitality and leisure businesses would benefit from the grants to compensate for an average 40 per cent fall in revenue from the Government’s ‘Plan B’ restrictions in the run-up to Christmas.

The cash awards will vary according to the size of the business with those with a rateable value of more than £51,000 eligible for the full £6,000, those between £15,000 and £51,000 being offered £4,000 and smaller operations getting £2,666.

There will also be £100 million discretionary funding to be distributed by councils to other businesses hit by Covid restrictions this festive season.

The Government will also reintroduce its scheme to cover the cost of statutory sick pay for Covid-related absences for small and medium-sized employers across the U.K.

However, the package is unlikely to satisfy hospitality and leisure chiefs who have been hit by cancellations and face further uncertainty. The Prime Minister on Monday refused to rule out further restrictions, including a possible return of a ban on indoor drinking and eating.

Worth reading in full.

‘Work From Home’ Guidance Spells Disaster for Hospitality Industry, Pub Boss Warns

Clive Watson, the owner of The City Pub Company, has said that the Government’s ‘Plan B’ work from home guidance is “turning off the life support machine yet again” for the hospitably industry, and will negatively impact the trade of businesses located in city centres due to the lack of commuters. Watson also noted how vital the Christmas period is to hospitality firms, mentioning that his company brings in a third of its annual profits during December, which helps it stay afloat during the quiet months of the year when there is less demand. BBC News has the story.

Hospitality firms have warned they face a collapse in demand at their busiest time of year due to the Government’s new work-from-home guidance.

The measures, designed to slow the spread of the highly transmissible Omicron variant, come in from Monday.

One trade body called them a “body blow” to already-struggling pubs, restaurants and entertainment venues.

Pub chain boss Clive Watson said some pubs could “run out of cash” without extra help from the Government.

However, the Government is not planning any new economic support measures.

Watson said the City Pub Company, which has 44 sites in England and Wales, was just starting to get back on its feet after a rough 18 months.

But he said the Government was “turning off the life support machine yet again” by bringing back home-working.

“From about 10 days ago office parties started to get cancelled [because of Omicron]. Going forward after yesterday’s announcement that is only going to accelerate,” he told the BBC’s Today programme.

“What Government has got to appreciate is for businesses, particularly in our sector, Christmas is always a key time.”

The City Pub Company makes about a third of its annual profits in December, which tides it over in the quiet months of January and February.

Hospitality firms fear losing vital passing trade as more people work from home. Businesses from dry cleaners to coffee houses depend on an office crowd, particularly in city centres.

By contrast, those that cater to people in their homes, such as takeaways and supermarkets stand to gain from the new guidance.

We talked to firms that rely on commuters about how the new home-working guidance will affect them.

David Abrahamovitch runs Grind, a chain of nine café restaurants in London, employing 250 staff. He also has a successful online store selling compostable coffee pods for Nespresso machines, and says he can “fall back” on that side of the business if things get tough.

“A lot of other hospitality businesses won’t have that, so we’re lucky,” he told the BBC. “But it will still be painful to watch the company go into reverse gear again.”

Grind relies on people coming into central London and has also has seen a big drop-off in Christmas party bookings since Omicron emerged, which Abrahamovitch thinks will get worse.

He is nervous about how the landlords he rents his shops from will react if things really slow down.

Worth reading in full.

Mark Drakeford Tells the Welsh Hospitality Industry to Prepare for Vaccine Passports

Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford has declared that vaccine passports may be imposed on the hospitality industry, along with the return of work from home mandates, to tackle an increase in the number of Covid hospital admissions. The Welsh Government also wishes to introduce vaccine passports to cinemas, theatres, and concert halls from November 15th. The MailOnline has the story.

Speaking on Sky News, Drakeford said: “We have to make a concerted effort over the next three weeks to bring those numbers down.”

It comes as Wales is set to tighten Covid restrictions to tackle a rising number of hospital admissions, with more than 680 people in Welsh hospitals with Covid on October 27th. 

Positive case numbers have also been at their highest recorded total since the pandemic began this month, although numbers have dipped in recent days to fewer than 2,600. 

Official data showed England recorded 33,903 new infections, 2,153 cases were confirmed in Scotland, while 2,664 were spotted in Wales and 1,122 in Northern Ireland. Cases appear to be trending downwards in all four nations. 

And the number of people going to hospital who were infected with Covid seems to be plateauing. Some 962 sought NHS care on Sunday — the most recent day the data is available for — a rise of 0.3% on the 959 patients admitted last week.

Meanwhile, 165 people died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus, a jump of 43.5% on the 115 deaths recorded on the same day last week.

Despite cases trending downwards and No10’s modellers estimating there will be just 5,000 daily cases over the festive period, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance said the UK is still in a “very uncertain phase'” of the pandemic and warned ‘Plan B’ should not be taken off the table.

Within Wales, adults who are fully vaccinated, and young people aged five to 17, will be asked to self-isolate until they have received a negative PCR test if someone in their household has symptoms or tests positive for Covid.

People who are not vaccinated will still have to self-isolate for 10 days following contact with someone who has tested positive, including close contacts outside of their household.

Asked what more could be done, Mr Drakeford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We can certainly extend the Covid pass into other settings. 

“We will be talking to hospitality over the next three weeks to help them to prepare, should that be necessary. We hope it won’t be, of course.

“We will go back to the risk assessments we carry out in the workplace to see whether there is more we can do, more people working from home, back to social distancing in the workplace, looking at the way that schools are organised to try to prevent more young people from contracting the disease.

“The current level of restrictions in Wales are the lowest they have been since coronavirus began. I want it to stay that way, to keep Wales safe, to keep Wales open”.

Worth reading in full.

A Doctor Writes: Predictions of Doom Have Not Been Borne Out

We’re publishing an update this morning from the Daily Sceptic’s in-house doctor in which he analyses the latest NHS hospital data. Conclusion: no need to panic.

I have been a bit quiet lately, partly due to being on holiday and partly due to waiting a while to examine what trends are emerging from the hospital admissions data over the later summer.

On looking at the latest figures and associated media commentary I have been reminded of an old Russian aphorism from the Soviet era: “The future is certain, but the past keeps changing.”

For example, on February 3rd, 2020, Boris Johnson, warned of the danger that “new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic”, leading to measures that “go beyond what is medically rational, to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage”.

I didn’t catch any reference to that (very reasonable) remark this week when the Prime Minister imposed further taxation on the working-age population and the companies that employ them. Before returning to the airbrushing of recent history, I will consider the hospital level data over the last month to discern trends and discuss what reasonable inferences we can draw from the numbers. I confess that some of the information doesn’t quite make sense to me – I will elaborate on this point later.

The first and most glaringly obvious fact is that the catastrophic tsunami of hospitalisations confidently predicted by all the experts who have assumed the governance of the U.K. has failed to arrive. How annoying that must be for Richard Horton, Editor in Chief of the Lancet, who described the relaxing of restrictions in July as “driven by libertarian ideology” rather than the data. Or Trish Greenhalgh, Professor of Primary Care Health Sciences at Oxford University, who said that “the Government policy seems designed to increase cases” and predicted there will be hundreds of ‘superspreader’ events in the coming weeks. The Lancet published a letter signed by 122 self-identifying experts which suggested that the Government was conducting a “dangerous and unethical experiment” in removing societal restrictions on July 19th.

Hospitality Sector Faces Surge in Bankruptcies as Government Support Dries Up

Months of forced closures during lockdowns followed by staff shortages due to the ‘pingdemic’ means it’s not just shops that are struggling to survive but hospitality businesses too. The number of bankruptcies is already on the up and is expected to peak as Government support runs out. The Telegraph has the story.

The insolvency firm Mazars said the end of pandemic subsidies over the next six months and staff recruitment woes meant those businesses which had just about managed to stay afloat during the pandemic were now starting to feel the pain.

Partner Rebecca Dacre said: “It is clear that we have yet to see the full extent of the pandemic’s financial hit on hotels and restaurants.

“Businesses that are just keeping their head above water are likely to be taken under by the end of Government support schemes, the repeated cost of reopening and restocking, difficulty recruiting staff and lower occupancy or covers due to people’s changing habits or working patterns.

“Those businesses that have benefited from U.K. tourism this summer may still find themselves looking for support after the holiday season ends.”

Hotels and restaurants struggled to repay the loans even as Government support schemes remained in place, allowing them to furlough staff and avoid landlord action for unpaid rents. The Government had also put in place a block on so-called winding up petitions, preventing lenders from asking courts to close businesses which owe them money and sell their assets.

This block is due to be lifted at the end of September, at the same time as the furlough scheme will be completely wound down. Next March, a suspension on landlord action for rent arrears will be lifted. …

The noodle chain Wagamama has become the latest to feel the pinch of labour shortages, warning a fifth of its restaurants are having difficulty hiring chefs.

Chief Executive Thomas Heier said that he was struggling to fill vacancies at 30 sites. He said competition from delivery and logistics companies had drained the pool of available workers. …

It follows a wave of closures during the pandemic, with names such as Byron, the burger chain, and Italian ­eatery Carluccio’s having collapsed. Both were later rescued, although many of their sites were closed.

Worth reading in full.

Hamburg Businesses to Be Given ‘Choice’ to Bar Unvaccinated Residents

Hamburg has become the first German city to tell a range of venues, including restaurants, clubs and, according to some reports, religious institutions, that they are permitted to bar unvaccinated residents. Mandates will also apply to workers within these organisations. Those that decide not to introduce vaccine passes will be forced to continue enforcing other restrictive policies. The Local has the story.

German states on Monday moved to a uniform Covid health pass system which allows entry to many public spaces, such as indoor dining, only to people who’ve been vaccinated, have recovered from Covid or have been tested against Covid. It’s known as the ‘3G model’ in Germany.

But on Tuesday, Hamburg announced it will introduce a ‘2G option model’ for event organisers and business owners – effectively banning unvaccinated people.

It means venue and event bosses will be allowed to offer their services and allow entry only to people who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid within the last six months. Those who are eligible for vaccination but haven’t got it will not be allowed to enter. 

Businesses have to let the city know if they plan to use the 2G entry system. 

The obligation to provide proof also applies to employees working on the premises in question, said the Senate. 

Under 2G, businesses will not need the same hygiene regulations. It will allow bosses, for instance, to admit more guests or offer a free choice of seating without mandatory spacing requirements. However, masks will remain compulsory in all indoor settings.

The 2G option will be launched on Saturday. Organisers can also opt for the 3G model – but if they do, they will have to follow previous Covid restrictions, such as caps on the amount of people who can attend. 

The 2G or 3G option is aimed at theatres, cinemas, trade fair operators, restaurants, hotels, swimming pools and fitness studios, among other businesses.

Organisers of sporting events with visitors, public festivals or educational courses should also be able to exclude unvaccinated people if they want to, said the Hamburg Senate.

The Senate said operators will face heavy fines if they do not check for proof of vaccination or recovery (or a negative test if it’s a 3G event).

Worth reading in full.

Pubs Could Be Forced to Reintroduce Social Distancing During ‘Covid Surges’ if They Don’t Check Vaccine Passports

Rather than forcing hospitality venues to check vaccine passports later this year, the Government is considering giving pubs and restaurants a ‘choice’: check the vaccination status of customers or reintroduce social distancing (that is, massively reduce profits) during ‘Covid surges’. The Telegraph has the story.

The idea is being looked at as an alternative to changing the law to mandate vaccine passports – a tougher stance that Boris Johnson warned could be adopted next month.

Under the latest proposal, venues with large indoor crowds would not be forced to adopt vaccine passports but would be offered incentives to adopt them instead.

This could include being able to stay open at full capacity, rather than only being allowed to conduct table service and have no punters at bars, if there is another Covid wave.

One adviser to a Cabinet minister said the idea was being discussed, saying that there was now momentum inside the Government behind some form of Covid certification this autumn.

A similar proposal had been considered by a review led by Michael Gove into Covid certification earlier in the year but was dropped as daily cases fell during the spring. …

But Mark Harper, who leads the Covid Recovery Group of lockdown-sceptic Tory MPs, criticised the Government for considering any form of vaccine passport in a domestic setting.

Mr Harper said: “Given our very high uptake of vaccination, especially among the groups vulnerable to Covid, what problem are these disproportionate ideas trying to solve? 

“I’m surprised the Government is even suggesting it – it’s almost like they don’t believe that our vaccines work. Just the suggestion will damage business confidence.

“The case for vaccine passports is not backed up by evidence from the Government’s own events research programme. Ministers would be wise to drop these threats now and focus on continuing to encourage vaccination through positive public health messages.”

Worth reading in full.

One in 10 Pubs and Restaurants Forced to Close Last Month Due to ‘Pingdemic’

Hospitality venues were relying on the easing of restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ to make up for their lockdown losses, but they’ve found that one set of restrictions has simply been replaced by another. The Chief Executive of U.K. Hospitality reports that one in 10 pubs and restaurants have been forced to close over the past month because of staff shortages caused by the ‘pingdemic‘. One in five venues has also had to “significantly adjust their offer or services” to cope with the continued disruption to business. MailOnline has the story.

The ‘pingdemic’ has seen record numbers of people being alerted by the NHS Covid app to self-isolate in recent weeks, including 700,000 for the week to July 21st.

The Government rolled out exemptions for workers it deems to be employed in critical industries, such as those in the food sector, transport and waste collection.

Daily negative test results can enable such workers who have been alerted by the app or called by NHS Test and Trace as Covid contacts to continue working.

Kate Nicholls [of U.K. Hospitality] told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “In the last month one in 10 of our businesses have had to close their sites and more importantly one in five have had to significantly adjust their offer or services in order to cope with the pandemic.”

She added: “The ‘pingdemic’ has hit at the same time as the reopening, they haven’t had time to rebuild cash reserves and so they are in quite a fragile state and the hit to revenues as a result of the pingdemic is running at about 15 to 20% of revenues for those businesses that are affected.

“So it is a significant suppression just at the point in time when these businesses needed to start recovering from about 16 months worth of closure and restrictions.” …

It comes as desperate councils are offering lorry drivers bonuses of £3,000 in a bid to clear the backlog of bin collections caused by the ‘pingdemic’.

Rubbish has piled up in many areas in recent weeks – with up to 40% of some local authority workforces having to isolate.

Some residents have been told to cut down on the amount of food that they throw out as piles of uncollected waste grow. 

Others have been asked not to put their bins out unless they are full, with collection services in dozens of areas running significantly behind schedule.

Separately, a new report has warned more than 1.1 million jobs remain unfilled as the pingdemic crisis worsens the shortage of workers.

Worth reading in full.

Stop Press: The Health Secretary has finally agreed to make the NHS Covid-tracking app less sensitive. Until now, it pinged people who’d been in contact with an infected person at any point during a five-day period before they tested positive; henceforth, that will be reduced to two days. MailOnline has the story.