Manchester restaurateur and chef Simon Wood has spoken out against the government’s lack of support for hospitality, threatening that if he is forced to close without a proper financial support package he is of a mind to ‘tell them to shove it’.
Tweeting ‘they can fine me if they want’, he added ‘maybe everyone should do it until they support us properly.’
His furious comments follow a week of mounting pressure on the government to introduce a proper financial support package for the sector, and come amid numerous allegations of a ‘lockdown by stealth’.
Speaking to ITV on Monday night the chef went even further, taking a dig at both the lack of support provided to the sector so far and at plans being floated this week, which suggest new draft regulations would ban indoor mixing except for work purposes, and pubs and restaurants would be limited to outdoor service only.
“Hospitality is a safe environment. If it’s deemed not safe then support it financially and close it for the good of the public. No decent operator in the entire country’s going to argue with that,” he said.
‘The fact of the matter is, though, they’ve been told people not to go out.
“We’re in a stealth lockdown and we’re suffering and bearing the brunt of it – it’s really, really concerning that we don’t know what’s coming next and there’s mutings of outdoor dining, erm, I’m not sure I know many people that would come for a 12-course tasting menu on the balmy streets of Manchester in January.”
Making a reference to the recent allegations of rule-breaking in Downing Street, he added, “to be honest, without any kind of evidence, without everyone following the same set of rules, why should we – why should we jeopardise the businesses that we work night and day to keep afloat and we have done for more than just the past two years?”
“Forget the pandemic, hospitality is a tough industry with very low margins, we work very hard for very little a lot of the time. So you know it’s important that if they aren’t going to support us that we stand together as an industry and make a collective stance”.
Simon Wood is just one figure who has been vocal in speaking out about the need for better support in recent weeks.
He’s been joined by the likes of Andy Burnham and Sacha Lord, both of whom have been calling for an increase in support since the arrival of Omicron in England, which was the first catalyst for a drop-off in restaurant and Christmas party bookings.
In response to the suggestion that a return to outdoor dining could be introduced in Manchester as part of a two-week ‘circuit breaker’ after Christmas, Burnham tweeted:
“Outdoor only? Have they been to Manchester in December?!
“You can’t help but think they’re trying to think of any old excuse to avoid a financial support scheme for hospitality.”
And reaching the end of a long day of meetings with hospitality yesterday, Lord tweeted that he had ‘witnessed tears, anger, fear, anxiety and total lost hope’.
He said: “Every meeting or outburst has carried the same question. Where on earth is The Chancellor @RishiSunak?”
The comments echo feelings of concern shared by hospitality businesses up and down the country and come amid increasing calls on the Treasury to introduce better support for the sector.
Since the arrival of Omicron in the country several weeks ago, booking cancellations have skyrocketed across the industry – leaving many fearing they will not survive into the new year without additional restrictions and financial support.
It follows the announcement of a state of emergency in London, which was called by the capital’s Mayor Sadiq Khan over the weekend.
Khan appeared on Andrew Marr’s final BBC show on Sunday to peak about the urgent need for better support to be made available to the sector.
He told Marr that people should go to pubs and restaurants “if they can do so safely”. stating that “pubs, restaurants, and bars have worked so hard to make their places covid safe” before advising people to do a lateral flow before they visited, to socially distance where they can, and to wear masks where they can’t.
“It’s cheaper to support business with grants, with business rates relief, and with furlough than allow them to go bust,” he added.
Following the state of emergency announcement in London, the government held emergency COBRA and cabinet meetings on Monday to discuss future plans – with three different scenarios currently on the table.
Despite this, no Covid announcements have yet been forthcoming.
Featured image – ITV