In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, the restaurateur and private members’ club mogul Richard Caring, who backs The Ivy Collection, Bill’s and Soho House, warned the Prime Minister he was “killing the country” by failing to outline when hospitality venues could reopen and whether they would have to abide by the two-metre social distancing rule.
Caring said ministers had grossly underestimated the permanent damage being done to Britain’s 26,000 restaurants.
He said thousands of businesses and their employees were in the “eye of a storm”, surviving thanks only to the Government’s taxpayer-funded furlough scheme that pays staff wages, and a pause on rent and business rates tax bills.
As soon as state aid measures are withdrawn, Caring warned, as many as “50 or 60%” of the four millin strong hospitality workforce could be laid off and restaurants, cafes and bars shuttered for good.
He said the wave of redundancies would be “like a volcano” erupting, with the worst of the pain coming in September and October when the furlough scheme ends.
The intervention by arguably the most influential businessman in the hospitality industry will pile pressure on the Prime Minister to ease two-metre social distancing rules and follow countries such as France, Spain, Italy and Germany in allowing restaurants and pubs to reopen with less onerous restrictions.
Calling for urgent action to avert the looming jobs crisis, Caring said: “I don’t think people can see it yet, but everyone in hospitality is beginning to realise they will have to make heavy cuts. This volcano, unless we wake up to it now, it’s going to be horrendous. It’s just going to explode, spewing out unemployed people. The pain and suffering it is going to cause is horrific.
“There are estimates saying we could have up to five million unemployed. It’s not going to be five million – it’s going to be more. I don’t think we’ve seen anything yet. The Government is killing the country right now and the hospitality industry is the frontline disaster.”
Boris Johnson has launched a review of the two-metre rule and indicated that hospitality businesses might be allowed to reopen on 4 July. But he has given no concrete assurances and speculation is rife that the PM wants to keep social distancing at two metres until September, when schoolchildren are scheduled to return to classrooms.
Caring believes the Government has failed to grasp the scale of the looming unemployment crisis. Alongside the two million hospitality layoffs, Caring estimates that 25% of those on furlough in other industries will eventually lose their jobs.
He predicts that the cull will push the overall jobless figure for Britain to an astonishing seven million people – equal to about one in five of the working-age population. “The clock is ticking and when furlough ends, that will be it for a lot of businesses,” he said. “Businesses that were not strong in December 2019 will not survive. I think the country is going to wake up to this terrible shock.”
In Europe, Germany, Belgium, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal have all allowed restaurants to open with 1.5 metres social distancing. Meanwhile, France, Austria, Denmark, Norway, China, Hong Kong, Lithuania and Singapore require only one metre. Guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation also recommend keeping a distance of one metre.
“If they can do it elsewhere, why not here? I get so many calls from people saying when are you going to open the restaurants," said Caring. "My answer is I can’t – there are no regulations, there are no rules, there is no information. We don’t know if we need glass screens between tables. Is it two metres without screens? One and a half with screens? We don’t know.
"We’re just told it’s under review, under review, under review.”