Budget 2021 Leeds: Bars and restaurants call for financial support beyond June as they warn city centre could be 'decimated'
Bar and restaurant owners in Leeds have warned the city centre is at risk of being "decimated" as they call for further financial support - extending well beyond June.
Speaking ahead of the Chancellor's Budget announcement on Wednesday, business owners said the financial impact of the pandemic has taken a huge toll on their businesses, which will take months to repair.
Rishi Sunak has already announced 'restart grants' of £6,000 per premises for non-essential retailers, rising to £18,000 for outlets in the hospitality, leisure and personal care sectors.
The announcement was welcomed by Martin Greenhow the managing director of MOJO bars which has a venue in Leeds, but he called for a full package of economic support extending beyond the full reopening of hospitality, on June 21 at the earliest.
He told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “We were told as an industry to stand down, sit on our hands and protect the populous - and we did it.
"We were then told to borrow vast sums of money to pay for the privilege of being told to do nothing. It’s an incredibly unjust situation to find yourself in, where you are mortgaging your future for the benefit of all.
“Nobody in hospitality takes lightly our responsibility, but to be asked to pick up the tab seems somewhat unfair.
"The business rate relief needs to be extended for another 12 months at a minimum, to help us to deal with the massive rent debts that have built up.
“And a cut in VAT for everybody would go a long way to help restore the fiscal balance that businesses have all been suffering from."
Martin also called for the flexible furlough scheme to be extended for venues without outdoor seating, which cannot reopen until May 17 at the earliest.
He added: “We’re looking at city centres that are going to be decimated, so it is in everybody’s interest to see that happen".
Martin's concerns were echoed by Stephanie Cliffe, who owns The Assembly bars in Cross Gates and Garforth with her husband Matthew.
Stephanie said: “Just because we’ve got that road map in place, it’s going to take some time for businesses to recoup those losses, to help with rent and the loss in sales.
“We are a small family business with a small team and we've done everything we can to make sure that we look after all our staff. The job retention scheme was a lifeline for our team, who were able to pay their rents and look after their families.
“But we’ve been paying rent for properties which haven’t been used, there have been bills that we have to continuously pay even though we haven’t been open.
“I hope on Wednesday when the announcement is made, they have looked at all different circumstances. Not all businesses have the luxury of having outdoor space, so it’s making sure that the financial support is continued.”
The founder of the Tattu restaurant chain, Adam Jones, said the VAT reduction scheme had failed to have any real benefit on bars and restaurants - his Leeds restaurant has been closed for six out of the nine months of the scheme being in place.
Adam said: "The Chancellor must recognise that for many hospitality and tourism businesses in the UK where tier three and four restrictions have forced long periods of closure, the reduction to five per cent VAT for our sectors has been a wholly wasted concept.
"We need to see the VAT reduction extended way beyond April 2021 for it to be of any real benefit."
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