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Independent hospitality businesses at critical point

Photo credit: Matthew Horwood

The next seven days are critical for the survival of many independent restaurants, cafes and pubs across Wales, says the Welsh Independent Restaurant Collective (WIRC).

The financial support measures currently in place will expire on 31st March, and with no word from Welsh Government on further support after that date, businesses are facing an unknown period of continued closure due to a lack of clarity on reopening dates.

“Thousands of small independent hospitality businesses are staring into the void with no answer as to when they can begin trading and no indication of if and when they might receive financial support to plug the gap,”said Simon Wright, independent restaurateur and one of the co-founders of the WIRC.

Thanks in part to the upcoming Senedd elections, hospitality businesses in Wales are facing the prospect of no further financial assistance being announced until well into May; support which may not reach the bank accounts of beleaguered businesses until the end of that month.

If that prospect becomes a reality, the WIRC warns that the impact on jobs would be catastrophic; undermining all previous efforts to keep independent hospitality businesses across Wales alive and ready to be part of the country’s economic recovery.

Kasim Ali applies a WIRC sticker to the window at Waterloo Tea

Kasim Ali, founder of the Waterloo Tea chain of tea houses in South Wales said:

The Government has said that it’s committed to the foundational economy and the principle of recovery based on the creativity, energy and growth potential of small Welsh businesses. This contrasts with their actions over the past few weeks which seem out of kilter with those objectives. Independent “non-essential” retail remains closed whilst supermarkets and other large stores mop up the pent-up demand from the public.

In hospitality we face a grim uncertainty with no word on funding and no real sense of when we might begin to trade again. The mood amongst all who work in the sector is one of great anxiety, an anxiety that could be substantially lifted by Welsh Government breaking their silence on funding available post 31st March”.

Dan Warder of Top Joes pizza restaurants in Narberth and Tenby said:

The costs don’t go away when we aren’t trading. Rent has to be paid, utilities, loan repayments and employer contributions to the furlough scheme. Government at all levels has made substantial efforts to help the sector during its forced closure, but the reality is that these can never match the losses being incurred.

The lack of a funding commitment in Wales from 1st April contrasts with Scotland and England where there is clarity over reopening, and where funding has already been announced to help businesses through the transition to the start of trading.”

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the Welsh Beer and Pub Association said:

“The lack of clarity on reopening dates is only compounded by the lack of information concerning grant funding for pub and hospitality businesses. We cannot continue to fumble in the darkness like this, our sector needs a clear direction of travel to begin planning the beginnings of a recovery, but alongside that we need grant funding to see us through to the reopening. The Welsh Government can’t allow hundreds of businesses to fall at the final hurdle with the end of the pandemic in sight.” 

The last round of funding to cover the period to the end of March discriminated heavily against smaller hospitality businesses, with those with 10 staff or under ineligible for the bulk of funding which was distributed through the Economic Resilience Fund.

WIRC was formed in June 2021 to give a voice to independent restaurants, cafes and pubs across Wales and has almost 400 supporting businesses across Wales.