The government stole Christmas | Gauvain Towler

For small businesses, the billion Sunak is a pimple on a chest sore

IIn the dark, you can just make out them. A queue stretches along a corrugated concrete wall, leading up to a staircase and up to a padlocked door painted yellow. It’s three in the morning of the winter solstice and Lisa proudly leads the line.

A young woman in her thirties, she had come prepared with a small folding chair, the kind one would take for a game of village cricket.

“I arrived at 1:45 am,” she told me happily.

“But the market opens at 4? “

“Yes. I have my chair, I have my coat, I have a movie uploaded to Netflix and I really love my seafood. Why would I go to Main Street and pay double the price here?”

His logic was unassailable. Weird, sure, in a way “it’s really cold, it’s the middle of the night, it’s December and you stand in line for three hours just to make sure you get the first drops on a pile. of crustaceans ”, but unassailable.

“Restaurants are terrified of buying meat in case there is a Boxing Day lockdown”

I had gone back to the three night markets in London to see how they were doing. I had been there for the last time in November of last year and had been planning this trip for a few weeks. I had thought that this year, as Christmas approached, I would be able to report on an industry at its best. The hospitality industry, pubs, restaurants were reporting exceptional bookings, contract catering was going well, and Christmas events at work and family were booked. But then came Omicron. Or rather, that’s when the government’s reaction to Omicron came. Business has just fallen off a cliff, and the government’s new aid package is a pimple on a chest sore for these night workers.

Greg Lawrence, a grizzled 55 Smithfield Christmass veteran and president of the Smithfield Market Tenants Association, sits in his checkout booth, looking around the world like a flat-capped vizier. He stamps and passes handwritten receipts out the window, each accompanied by a grunt of steel affability.

His son, Greg also, utters a minimalist market cry, howling in the turmoil of ephemeral commerce: “Pork, beef, lamb.” Pork, Beef, Lamb ”. The central avenue of the market has customers, but it is not busy. According to Lawrence Sr., the market generates just under £ 1 billion in revenue per year, with the month leading up to Christmas accounting for a quarter.

“You have restaurants terrified of buying meat because they don’t know if there will be a lockdown on Boxing Day, the same goes for pubs. I have always been a supporter of Boris, but the way the government has behaved on this issue over the past few weeks leaves a lot to be desired. To be polite, I am very disappointed.

“This year, we had quietly recovered the figures before Covid in mid-September, but this Christmas is not good at all. The Christmas business is huge. Normally that would be like sardines right now, and look at it ”- he waved his sharp hands towards the customers.

“Imagine the amount of meat that is now being held back. The hotels and sites will have ordered 50 turkeys for one event, and they are running 5 events per week. All are canceled. That’s 250 turkeys (plus everything that goes with the turkey), now sitting down that needs to be stored cold, which takes up space and money. The farms have been doing it so far, and good luck to them, but here on the wholesaler side, Smithfield Market, we have a bottleneck of meat.

The government can wash its hands of the chaos its directives have caused

Because there were only directions, not a foreclosure, cancellations are voluntary and not force majeure. Thus, the government can wash its hands of the chaos its directives have caused, leaving mostly small and independent companies to bear the financial burden. If 250 turkeys alone for a week in one place can cost £ 7,000, you can see how costs in the trade are skyrocketing.

He continued, “I don’t like the look of next year at all. Last year’s bounce loans now have to be repaid and we are losing money rather than earning money during what should be our best time of year, the weeks that put us through quieter times. He described the trumpeting scheme of grants of up to £ 6,000 for hospitality businesses as “a disgrace. This money will not scratch the surface at all. It is an insult and a shame ”.

He received vocal support from Gary Marshall in New Covent Garden, president of the Covent Garden Tenants Association.

“A billion pounds is a lot of money, but it’s six thousand, 120 pounds a week, 15 pounds a day. You know what I mean? 15 per day! We cannot turn off our refrigerators. I am far from being a fan of Boris myself, I have had experience of him as Mayor of London, I found him polite but devious and self-promoting, but you wouldn’t want to be in its place.

Paul Grimshaw of DDP Ltd. who hold the Royal Warrant for Fruit and Vegetables, pointed out the limits of the billion Sunak: not all receive any assistance because we are not classified as hoteliers. Indispensable but not hospitable.

As Marshall pointed out, the Flower Market (the other half of New Covent Garden) had the worst of all worlds, because “no one could ever claim that they are part of hospitality, and that’s a push to describe cut flowers as a necessity. They are totally ignored. Even if we get on the hospitality list for the $ 6,000, they can’t but they still lose when the rooms close ”.

There was a sign of positivity though, as Marshall pointed out: “The audience has relearned how to cook, they’ve fallen in love with food again. People want quality and variety and consistency, they don’t get it from the supermarkets, but they get it from us.

Back in Billingsgate, Lisa folded her chair and stared at the queue that now stretched for hundreds of yards in a large snake around the parking lot. One night last week, people waited up to four hours to enter. But these customers leave with a few shopping bags they really do not compensate for the missing, who left in vans and trucks.

In all three markets, direct retailing is booming and traders are innovating. But the government’s shadow crash and its paltry aid to a very selective group of businesses is causing both anger and distress. These small businesses, often family businesses stretching back generations, are natural preservatives – but the support is supposed to go both ways.

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