End of Plan B: Return to office ‘vital for hospitality,’ say bar and pub bosses

·2 min read
City Pub Group chairman Clive Watson (City Pub Group)
City Pub Group chairman Clive Watson (City Pub Group)

Retail and hospitality leaders were today pinning their hopes on the return of office workers to boost trade after the government scrapped work from home guidance.

CEOs and industry groups cheered the end of Plan B restrictions but many said businesses were still on a knife edge.

Clive Watson, chairman of City Pub Group, told the Standard: “To get Britain back to work, so to speak, is absolutely vital for hospitality. A lot of businesses, including our own, do rely on people being back at their desks and coming into London. That’s a really key driver going forward.”

There were signs of hope today as US investment bank Citi, which has thousands of UK employees, asked staff to begin coming back to the office for at least three days a week.

It came as trading figures underlined the setback suffered by businesses after Plan B restrictions were introduced.

City Pub Group, which has branches across London and the South East, said work from home orders saw December sales retreat to 85% of pre-pandemic levels.

Revolution Bars said Plan B restrictions meant sales over Christmas were down 23% compared to pre-pandemic levels. CEO Rob Pitcher attacked the government’s “confusing” messaging but said the end of restrictions was “very welcome for our business and will actively help rebuild consumer confidence.”

He said: “It is imperative that going forward there are no further restrictions as we all learn to live alongside Covid 19.”

A quick bounce back in business is crucial as companies are facing surging costs due to rising energy bills, wages and raw material costs.

For many, a febrile recovery seen in the second half of last year was derailed by the Omicron wave, leaving them in a weak position. UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls said: “The critical Christmas trade was laid to waste for the second year running.”

Both Watson and Pitcher urged the government to scrap planned tax rises that come into force in April, including an increase in VAT from 12.5% to 20%.

Watson said: “There’s a lot of deferred rents out there, a lot of operators really begged, borrowed and almost stolen from every source to stay in the game. I just think loading on the sector extra tax is definitely the wrong thing to do. It’s counterproductive because operators will fall over.”

“The sector is desperate to recover but there are still bumps in the road.”

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