Leeds lockdown roadmap: Shops, bars and cafes reopening is 'huge step' for city
The reopening of non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality today is a "huge step" towards the recovery of the Leeds economy, a leading business figure has said.
Mark Goldstone, head of business representation and policy at West and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said he expected the latest easing of restrictions to be greeted with more enthusiasm than seen after the previous two national lockdowns.
But he also sounded a note of caution about the challenges that remain for many businesses and the need for continued financial support should there be further government interventions.
"Whilst some businesses were able to adapt their business model to service customers online or through ‘click-and-collect’, this would not have brought in the revenue levels earned in
previous years for many," he said. "Likewise for many firms it would have been impossible to deliver through digital channels.
"The opportunity for business owners to return to what they do best will, I’m sure, be an enormous relief. I have no doubt that there is a huge level of enthusiasm from the general
public, with many hairdressers, beer gardens, and other retailers experiencing an overwhelming level of bookings.
"We know that cash reserves remain tight for many firms within retail and hospitality and so we need to be confident that today’s reopening is not quickly followed by further closures
or increased restrictions without strong scientific evidence; and that any further government interventions must come with financial support for affected businesses, including those
supplying into these frontline sectors."
From today, pubs, restaurants and cafes can reopen outdoors, while people will be able to go to shops, gyms and hairdressers for the first time in months.
The changes also mean that libraries, theme parks, zoos and indoor swimming pools will be able to reopen.
However, guidance to work from home wherever possible is among the measures that remain in place.
Mr Goldstone said: "The reopening of non-essential retail and outdoor hospitality is a huge step towards the wider economy regaining ground that has been lost."
Reflecting on the likely impact of these changes for retails and hospitality venues in Leeds city centre, he said: "While many economic forecasts reference high levels of pent up demand in the economy following 12 months of restrictions, the question is whether consumer spending habits have changed permanently or not.
"Even before the pandemic retail in particular had been competing with online for sales. Let’s hope that real world experience becomes more important than the purely transactional digital experience.
"Another factor will be the levels of office workers coming back into Leeds city centre too. Lunchtime and after-work sales activities contribute significantly to these sectors."
Asked how he thought it might compare to the easing after the first lockdown last summer and the second in the run-up to Christmas, he said: "This time round there is a route map to full reopening and, more importantly, a successful vaccine roll out. Both appear to have contributed to increasing consumer and business confidence.
"This third lockdown has been particularly long in comparison to the first two, and I expect the reopening to be met with more enthusiasm than previously."
Step three of the Government's roadmap out of lockdown will be introduced no earlier than May 17. This would include lifting most legal restrictions on meeting others outdoors, although gatherings of more than 30 people would still be banned and the 'rule of six' or two-household limit would continue to apply indoors.
Indoor hospitality would also reopen at that stage, although customers would be required to order, eat and drink while seated. Indoor entertainment venues such as cinemas and children’s play areas would be able to reopen too.
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