'We don't want handouts. We want to be able to work'

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th October 2020

talks between Manchester leaders and government have fallen through and the region is set to become a tier 3 restriction area as of friday night, as the number of weekly deaths in england from coronavirus is said to have risen by 38 percent. 

Announcing the breakdown of talks, Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchestersaid that a detailed package of support measures was presented to government, including a top-up of the furlough to its original 80% of wages at a cost of £65 million until the year's end, which he said would "help to prevent a winter of real hardship here."

"But the government refused and at 2 o'clock today, they walked away from negotiations," taking away its total support package of £60 million with it.  

As a punishment of sorts for walking away from the talks, the government will offer the city £20 million to support its inhabitants, and the Tier 3 restrictions will come into force on Friday night - or Saturday morning - at midnight.

Stricter than the "high" Tier 2 restrictions - under which London, York and Essex were recently placed - Tier 3 would mean closing pubs and bars which do not serve meals, additional restrictions on households mixing including a ban on wedding receptions, and the advice for people not to travel in or out of the area.

In his press briefing, the Prime Minister defended regional, localised restrictions to curb the spread of the virus, as chief medical officer, Jonathan Van-Tam warned of rising infections among the over 60 age group, which is most likely to fall ill and require hospitalisation due to coronavirus. 

"I know that these restrictions are tough, both on businesses and individuals, and believe me, no-one wants to be putting these things into effect," he said. 

"But that's why we're also enacting a comprehensive package of support," listing the Job Support Scheme, under which employees in businesses forced to closed will continue to be paid, and universal credit, which he said will leave those on the lowest income on "at least 80%" of their normal income. 

Discussions remain underway with local leaders in South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and the North East as to how they might be supported into Tier 3 restrictions.

 'We don't want handouts, we just want to work'

"I'm fuming," said Simon Wood, chef and owner of WOOD restaurant in central Manchester, shortly after the Prime Minister's announcement.

Not that the news was unexpected, he said, "but that they offer you £60 million and then slap you on the wrist and say no you can only have £20 million because you didn't agree in time." 

A former data scientist himself, he said: "the figures that they're showing - they're using them to show what they like."

However disparaged by the decision, he agrees full-heartedly with the mayor's approach. "People need to just abide by the rules," he said. 

"We don't like it but we've got to stick by it, otherwise all we do is give people an excuse to shoot at us."

"It's scandalous that there's no evidence linking this to hospitality," he said. 

"The percentage through education is ridiculous. Education, care homes - we all know where the issues are." 

Agreeing that the decision is political, he said: "they're hell bent on keeping education open." 

"This is very much like when they hung hospitality out to dry in the first two weeks of March and said: 'Don't go out, but we're not closing anywhere.' Because all of a sudden, everyone was frightened to death - and we're seeing that same trend now." 

Even if the restrictions decimates hospitality businesses, the chef knows that government can rely on its professionals' persistence to exist.

"If you work in this industry," he said, "You do it for love, not for money. People will come back and they'll rebuild it, there'll be empty buildings full of derelict kitchens that they can polish up and all start again, and that's what will happen." 

"It's all we know, it's what we do." 

Now that Tier 3 restrictions are coming into force, he said, the curfew should be dropped - giving more income to suppliers with more covers to serve, taxi drivers more able to stagger rides, and restaurants able to edge towards a margin.

"There's got to be a common sense approach to this. A blanket 'close hospitality and leave education as is isn't the right way. It's blinkered. If people are unsure, they should stay in. If they're uncomfortable going out, weak, of a certain age or demographic, whatever it might be, they should stay in." 

"We've done everything this government's asked, time and time again. Washed our hands, sung happy birthday, wore masks, wore visors, kept our distance, closed early." 

"The only thing we haven't tried is actually just getting on with it." 

"We don't want handouts. We want to be able to work."

"We've got businesses, we're proud of what we do, we're probably one of the cleanest, safest environments in the entire country." 

"It's increasingly frustrating that you're doing everything and still being the one that's facing the brunt of the limitations." 

Nobody really knows what the economic impact is going to be for the local area

For Adam Reid, whose restaurant at The French has too already adapted to rules and guidance, business won't be directly affected by the new measures. 

"I think," he said tentatively, "because it's all so bloody confusing isn't it." 

However, he added that "nobody really knows what the economic impact is going to be for the local area. But there doesn't seem to be much support forthcoming - financially - nationally."

As he sees it, footfall in the city is likely to be reduced massively, as it is so centralised. 

"It's going to be a nail in the coffin for a lot of places," he said, especially those that oscillate on the volume model. 

"The ones that haven't been able to change the model to low cover high spend are really going to struggle." 

The French reopened in October with half of the covers it previously had - but even since then footfall has dropped slightly. 

"Going from sixty odd covers a night and doing it regularly, to halving the size that you expect to achieve and that to actually be a quarter less than it is - it's having a significant impact." 

But whereas at the beginning of the year when the national lockdown was imposed and widespread support was announced, "it kind of felt like they had your back." 

"It's like they chucked everything in at the beginning," he said, but are more than reluctant to help out now. 

"It almost feels like you're being rode over by being told what to do - but when you're asking 'well, how are we going to do this?' They're just turning their backs and going: 'Heh, well, here's a couple of quid, get on with it." 

"What do you do if covers fall through the floor? You know what restaurants are like anyway - you rely on small margins to make things work, to think that there are other factors outside of whether people want to eat or not, it's really scary." 

The government, he said, "seems to have gone in at rung one of the ladder and said: 'right, that's it.' Everybody has to seem to beg and borrow and fight their way up to rung two of the ladder." 

Despite having great admiration for the mayor and how he has stood up for the people of Manchester, Adam said: "Today seemed like posturing. That [£60 million] was on the table, he should've just taken it." 

"Clearly all the compromise has been made on Manchester's side, but if you get to a point where something is something, do it and then make your point afterwards." 

"At the end the end of the day, it needs to be constructive." 

Currently between government and local leaders, he said: "There's no uniformity to it, there's no team approach to it. It's like if you work in a restaurant and the front of house are having an argument with the back of house. And it's like: 'C'mon guys, the customers aren't going to get served unless you both do your job properly.'" 

"Nobody seems to be bothered about that."

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 20th October 2020

'We don't want handouts. We want to be able to work'