'This is not a hospitality versus retail argument, but government decisions must operate on a level playing field'

The  Staff Canteen

Night time economy adviser for Manchester Sacha Lord is seeking a judicial review of the government's roadmap by the high court after it refused to provide evidence for the decision to reopen hospitality five weeks after non-essential retail. 

The government had been given a deadline of Wednesday 17th March to reply to the challenge, but failed to do so. 

Sacha Lord's earlier case against health secretary Matt Hancock regarding the 'substantial meal' rule was successful, and the Parklife co-founder believes that he stands a good chance with this case too.

The government has repeatedly refused to provide scientific evidence on which it is basing the decision to delay the reopening of indoor hospitality settings to May 17th, when non-essential retail will reopen on April 12th.

 

 

Justifying the decision to push for a judicial review, he said: "The government has failed to introduce any new evidence as to why indoor hospitality cannot open on 12 April alongside non-essential retail and we will now be taking this case to the High Court for an expedited judicial review.

"While we're pleased beer gardens will be reopening from 12 April, many venues don't have the space or financial capabilities to have an outdoor area, and as we know very well in Manchester, the weather is not always kind.

"Operators have spent hundreds of thousands of pounds creating indoor Covid secure environments, as advised by ministers themselves, and we firmly believe these regulated, ventilated venues have much safer measures and greater social distancing in place than retail stores.

"This is not a hospitality versus retail argument, but government decisions must operate on a level playing field and be supported by evidence. We currently see no clear justification for the delay."

Last weekend, in an interview published in The Daily Mail, hospitality entrepreneur, former leader of the PizzaExpress chain and founder of historical pub group Punch Taverns, Hugh Osmond, said: “Back in January the Prime Minister heralded the new covid vaccines as our ‘way out’ of lockdown. Since then more than 24 million people have been vaccinated but the government has been busily moving the goalposts and I don’t know a single person who understands why we are doing what we’re doing any more. Indoor ‘non-essential’ retail outlets will be allowed to reopen on 12 April while pubs, bars and restaurants will have to remain shut for another five weeks unless they have a garden or terrace they can use for outdoor dining."

He said that the long delay not only "needlessly squander[s] the benefits of the fast vaccination rollout, it is plainly irrational, unscientific and not based on evidence."

So, along with Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, I wrote to the Prime Minister this weekend notifying him of our intention to take his government to court. When taking momentous and unprecedented actions affecting millions of its citizens, the government must base its decisions on evidence, not prejudice, and should be held to account if it does not."

The case, he continued, follows on Sacha Lord's successful challenge regarding the government’s "ludicrous Scotch egg proposal" last November, which classified the dish as a 'substantial meal' for the purposes of tier regulations, which banned drinking in pubs unless food was ordered too.

He added: "Judges confirmed that the measure ‘lacked a proper scientific evidential basis’ and found that where a government acts without evidence it risks having its decisions overturned." 

He added that "by returning to court in a bid to have the end of the hospitality lockdown brought forward to April 12 we hope to provide a boost for the industry’s workforce – more than three million people – and the millions of loyal customers who have been deprived of the human social interaction they experience in our premises.

"Hospitality is essential for local communities, businesses and economies because our ability to socialise is critical to our mental health and – when it comes to covid – our sector is significantly safer than non-essential retail where the risk of transmission is higher."

The above, he said, was ensured because businesses went to great lengths to make their businesses 'Covid-secure,' by hiring additional cleaners, implementing track and trace systems and implementing one-way systems, sit-down service, installing ventilation units, etc.

"With all these measures in place, it is obvious that hospitality venues are safer than crowded shops," he added, which translated into much lower transmission rates than in other settings.

And, as a result, the number of outbreaks in hospitality venues was significantly lower than the totals reported in other venues, settings or workplaces. 

"And yet – while we remain closed – from April 12 people will resume browsing and queuing in shops where they will walk around freely, touching surfaces and handles, picking up items and getting closer to other shoppers than they would if they were in a bar or restaurant.

"I understand the desire for caution and the imperative need for this to be the last lockdown we ever face. But if we are to impose lockdowns which have a catastrophic effect on the economy and our health and welfare, we must make sure these decisions stand up to scrutiny.

"In the hospitality sector alone revenues have been slashed by £200 million a day and 660,000 jobs have been destroyed. Between now and 17 May – the date set for the indoor reopening of hospitality businesses – more than 3,500 pubs, bars and restaurants will close their doors for ever.

"It shouldn’t be difficult for the government to justify its roadmap timetable if the science, data and evidence have been followed. But if the government refuses to respond, we will issue judicial review proceedings without further notice. I hope our case can open up a chink of light at the end of this very dark chapter so that we can – as the Prime Minister said – ‘reclaim our lives and freedoms once and for all’.”

The government is due to provide the pair with a response by Wednesday, 17th March. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 18th March 2021

'This is not a hospitality versus retail argument, but government decisions must operate on a level playing field'