As we enter uncertain times, York BID Executive Director Andrew Lowson reflects on what we know – and how we should approach the next few months
York being placed into Tier 2 has caused understandable worry within the city. This concern is obvious within the business community, as well as the general public.
I am realistic that apprehension of what this means for health and livelihoods will escalate in the coming weeks, because we will be exposed to media reports showing growing Covid cases; and we will get consistent reports from retail and hospitality that they have massively reduced numbers of consumers to sell to. So brace yourself; as a community we must stay strong, and of course healthy.
In regard to public confidence, let me say that York is still a safe city to come and visit. That may fly in the face of rising numbers, but like anything, the devil is in the detail.
York’s rising Covid cases, like other cities, have been driven by certain circumstances – ie communities that live in close proximity with one another. For York, this naturally affects the student population living in halls of residence or student housing, and health statistics in October showed Covid hot spots in areas such as Heslington, Tang Hall and Fulford.
However, the city is seeing an increase in cases among all age groups, and while restrictions have a negative impact on trade, steps are necessary to minimise transmissions among the wider population.
Keeping York safe
York’s businesses continue to do their bit to make the city as safe as possible. As I go around the city centre I am hugely impressed by the signage at business entrances; the customer service from staff; hand sanitiser; queuing systems; returns policies etc. I also know many are being diligent with vetting customers, with one restaurant owner telling us that during the second week of October, he turned away 30 bookings.
A big thank you must also go to residents, as neither the police nor BID Street Rangers have heard many stories of non-compliance from the public. Statistics from the BID’s Restaurant Week (12th – 18th Oct) re-affirms residence confidence with York and its businesses, as 7,432 vouchers were downloaded, worth about £93k to a York hospitality sector in much need of support.
The unfortunate reality for businesses of being placed in Tier 2 is that they are being asked to trade with one arm behind their back. Several landlords have stated that they would rather be in Tier 3 status as the trading conditions are so tough.
As I write this (a week after Tier 2 came in), I have heard of pubs with no customers, hotels experiencing cancellations, retail seeing a marked drop in footfall. Unfortunately the figures make stark reading, with footfall on the Saturday after the introduction of tier two -29% down on the previous Saturday and a -40% drop on the Sunday.
It is for this reason that the BID will continue to lobby for financial support for businesses in Tier 2 areas. The Chancellor’s recent support package for hospitality and leisure has been met with a cautious response; probably because many businesses will be unsure how helpful it will be when trade is so poor. And of course, retail is excluded.
I only hope that over the coming months, government support takes account of regional differences. The way the Manchester negotiation has played out has left me uneasy, but the point that Whitehall does not always seem to understand regional economies is valid.
For example, hospitality is worth 2% of London GDP. In York, it will be worth much more. Financial support figures for northern cities can seem eyewatering; but if you look at London Crossrail, the Whitechapel station alone is estimated to cost £659 million… you can understand why north/south divide rhetoric is coming to the fore.
We don’t know where we will be with financial support, or whether we’ll move into a different tier in the coming weeks. We do know we now have a reduced consumer base and the city needs a visible marketing campaign to implore local people to support the city centre.
Businesses are always quick to adapt. Decision makers at both national and local levels need to do the same to support our business community during these difficult winter months.