Businesses fear a nightmare before Christmas as they face further losses in the second lockdown

Laura Onita
·3 min read
An almost empty high street in the centre of Birmingham on Saturday afternoon - Andrew Fox
An almost empty high street in the centre of Birmingham on Saturday afternoon - Andrew Fox
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

British retailers, bars and restaurants were furious on Saturday evening at being ordered to close in the run up to the crucial Christmas trading period.

The tightening of measures will further dampen Britons’ spending confidence, many companies fear, and could put them off from going into shops even if non-essential retailers reopen before Christmas.

In April and May, when many high-street chains were forced to close, non-essential retailers lost £1.6 billion a week.

While the return of the furlough scheme will be welcome support, losses will be much greater the second time around as companies enter the crucial festive shopping period, when they make the bulk of their profits.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said retailers had spent “hundreds of millions of pounds to make [stores] secure” and keep customers safe.

She added: “Retail faces a nightmare before Christmas, denying customers access to many of their favourite shops and brands.

"It will cause untold damage to the high streets this close to the festive season, cost countless jobs, and permanently set back the recovery of the wider economy.”

Supermarkets will stay open and Britons can use click-and-collect for online orders.

Takeaway food is also allowed, but people can no longer eat indoors at hospitality venues.

Charlotte Gatward, who runs the oldest family run jeweller in the UK, Gatwards of Hitchin, said: “As an industry, the most devastating is the timing of it.

“We make the majority of our profits in November and December. [Lockdown] will send everyone into the arms of Amazon, they will profit massively from this.”

Charlotte Bennett, the managing director of Healing Manor Hotel in Grimsby, said firms in the hospitality sector will not last beyond winter without additional income support.

“We were heavily relying on a strong festive period to see us through January, February and March and without that, we are going to have to quickly come up with some alternatives.

“As we creep over into November, a strong December is looking much less likely.”

Hayley Keys, who runs Lockwoods, a ski and outdoor clothes shop in Leamington Spa, said: “Of all the financial crashes and issues we have seen over the years, coronavirus has been the hardest to deal with.

“Our shop is very seasonal, selling mostly winter clothing. We will lose a key month of sales, and this will affect whether we can keep staff on in the long run.

“The main worry is that, by closing an independent store, people will go elsewhere as the big boys online will gain the sales.”

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, the departing director general of the Confederation of British Industry - Justin Tallis/AFP
Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, the departing director general of the Confederation of British Industry - Justin Tallis/AFP

Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, the departing director general of the Confederation of British Industry, also said more of the economy should be kept open to protect jobs.

“This autumn, firms are Covid-secure. Tried and tested financial packages are in place. Testing capacity is transformed and can expand further,” she said.

Roger Barker, director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said it was “paramount” that support measures match up to the restrictions.

"The Government must fully reinstate measures that gave directors breathing room from insolvency during the summer,” he said.

"Self-employed and small-company directors who have gone without support throughout the crisis should be helped with local authority grants."

A fresh wave of redundancies could follow as the country locks down again, Frances O’Grady of the Trades Union Congress, warned.

Last month, unemployment hit its highest level for more than three years as the effect of the Covid-19 crisis triggered record redundancies.

Ms O’Grady added: “Lockdown will only work if people aren’t worried about their jobs and livelihoods. There must be a similar level of support for self-employed workers similar to March.

“We need decent sick pay for all, worth at least the real living wage, so that everyone can afford to self-isolate.”