Pubs and restaurants in local lockdown areas face 'worst of both worlds' under competing rules, local leaders warn

Leaders in the North have warned hospitality businesses face “the worst of both worlds” under local lockdown restrictions branded “confusing and contradictory”.

Leeds Council’s leader Judith Blake and chief executive Tom Riordan, along with counterparts in Liverpool and Manchester, have written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock calling into question the efficacy of the new restrictions, warning they could lead to the cities “falling into a state of decline”.

The warning comes after MPs urged Mr Hancock to scrap the new 10pm curfew on hospitality businesses yesterday, amid accusations the measure was “doing more harm than good”.

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The letter to Mr Hancock revealed new figures which showed footfall in city centres had been slashed in half, with worst-hit areas down by up to 70 per cent, along with a 30 per cent reduction in hotel occupancy and restaurants and pubs currently hit by “significant” numbers of cancellations.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock arrives at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London, for a Cabinet meeting held at the FCO last week. Photo: PA

The local leaders said: “The stark reality is that these businesses are facing the prospect of a complete decimation in trade.”

New rules in Leeds, which came into effect on Friday, make it against the law for households to mix in private houses or gardens. But in other venues - such as parks, attractions, pubs and restaurants - households are merely “advised” not to mix, which businesses are expected to enforce.

It is this discrepancy which was branded “contradictory and confusing” by the council leaders, who warned it was unenforceable.

They argue that by not permitting the mixing of households in carefully-controlled businesses following the rule of six, it is creating the “worst of both worlds”, where some people will continue to flout the rules but most will simply stay at home - leading to dire consequences for the cities’ economies and also potentially infection rates.

Their letter said: “It is almost a return to lockdown in anything but name.”

It comes after Labour yesterday called for a review of the 10pm curfew imposed by the Government on hospitality venues last week.

Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth asked Ministers to consider imposing different restrictions in cities subjected to controls for several months – such as Bradford and Leicester – if infections have not subsided, in order to allow families to visit each other.

He added: “We support the restrictions announced last week but many are now questioning how effective they will be in containing the virus. We’ve seen this weekend pictures of people piling out of pubs at 10 o’clock on the dot into busy streets, public transport packed, supermarkets busy as people buy more drink.”

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he had received reports of supermarkets “absolutely packed out to the rafters” following closing time on Saturday with people rushing to buy more alcohol and that the curfew was “doing more harm than good”.

But Mr Hancock defended the policy, despite a plea from York Central MP Rachael Maskell, who highlighted clips of what happened in her constituency on Saturday at 10pm when “the streets filled out with young people enjoying themselves, partying, no social distancing and clearly creating the worst of environments”.

Mr Hancock replied: “Well we always look at the effects of these policies, we’ve got to take everything into the round including the level of social distancing that might have been going on were that to continue all through the night.

“And one of the reasons that we brought in this policy is because we’ve seen it work in other countries as (Ms Maskell) knows.”

Downing Street said the measure struck the “right balance” between protecting the public and allowing pubs and restaurants to continue trading.

But some scientists advising the Government said ministers should have foreseen the problems which a “hard” 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants have caused.

Professor Susan Michie, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said it was always “predictable” that ejecting people on to the streets at the same time would lead to crowds forming.

And Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist who also advises the Government, said it was another example of “patrician policymaking”.

Asked if the restriction would be reconsidered, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “No. I would obviously say we keep all of our social distancing measures under review but no there’s nothing in that regard.”

Number 10 also played down the prospect of allowing more flexibility for a staggering of exit times.

The spokesman said: “I’m not aware of anything specific in that regard. The decision to reduce time to 10pm was based on the fact it had been in operation in the local lockdown areas and had been considered to strike the right balance.”

The Department for Health and Social Care was approached for comment.