The Covid-19 catastrophe is creating ‘ghost towns’ across Britain and threatens to wipe out more than a million jobs, experts warned last night.

A record 11,120 household-name retail outlets and around 125,000 store jobs were lost after the first lockdown supercharged a move away from high streets.

However, this is just the tip of the iceberg, with fears the job loss total at shops, pubs and restaurants could soar as new lockdowns are rolled out this winter.

London, Essex and York were placed into Tier Two at the weekend, joining areas including Birmingham and Manchester, while Liverpool and Lancashire are already in the most stringent Tier Three.

The Covid-19 catastrophe is creating ‘ghost towns’ across Britain and threatens to wipe out more than a million jobs, experts warned last night

The Covid-19 catastrophe is creating ‘ghost towns’ across Britain and threatens to wipe out more than a million jobs, experts warned last night

Hospitality industry leaders say that as many as 750,000 jobs could go in their sector alone by early next year – and a total of 255,000 retail jobs could be lost by the end of 2020.

Kay Neufeld, of the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said it was ‘plausible’ that there could be more than one million job losses in the retail and hospitality sectors alone.

The Social Market Foundation, an independent think-tank, said: ‘Reduced demand for office space, and a seemingly inevitable decline of traditional retail, risk creating ghost town and city centres.’

In other developments:

  • The UK recorded another 16,982 Covid-19 cases, 32 per cent up from a week earlier – and a further 67 deaths;
  • Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham was last night considering an offer from No 10 of tens of millions of pounds to support businesses if the region agrees to go into Tier Three lockdown;
  • Government scientific adviser Sir Jeremy Farrar warned that Christmas will be ‘tough’ this year, with a vaccine for coronavirus still potentially six months away;
  • Michael Gove yesterday defended police being given personal data through NHS Test and Trace amid a furious privacy row;
  • Tony Blair was accused of breaching the UK’s 14-day quarantine rules after returning from a trip to the US;
  • Wales could be plunged into a full ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown lasting 17 days under plans expected to be announced today.

The British Chambers of Commerce is warning of ‘hundreds of thousands of job losses’ amid the closure of the furlough scheme, which currently supports more than two million workers, this month.

More than one in four of the UK’s 39,700 pubs may not survive the pandemic, according to the British Beer and Pub Association.

Greene King plans to close 79 pubs, putting 800 jobs at risk, while Young’s, Wetherspoons, Fuller’s and City Pub Company have all said they will cut several hundred staff.

Nick Mackenzie, of Greene King, said: ‘Pubs are becoming increasingly unviable.’ He added: ‘This means extending furlough to cover all hospitality venues hit by restrictions, not just those forced to close, extending the VAT cut and business rates holiday and cutting beer duty.’

Janet Watson, landlady at the Tillotsons Arms in Chipping, Preston, says she is at 'breaking point' financially, and warns new restrictions imposed on the area will 'push us over the edge'

Janet Watson, landlady at the Tillotsons Arms in Chipping, Preston, says she is at ‘breaking point’ financially, and warns new restrictions imposed on the area will ‘push us over the edge’

Pub and restaurant operator Mitchells & Butlers, which owns Harvester and All Bar One, said that the industry was facing ‘exceptionally challenging and uncertain circumstances’.

They added: ‘We strongly urge the Government to step up the level of support it is offering to an industry which has been repeatedly singled out and taken the full brunt of restrictions.’

The Government said it had already provided £200billion worth of support to help companies get through the crisis.

A spokesman said: ‘We know this continues to be a very difficult period for businesses. That’s why we have put in place a substantial package of support.’

‘These restrictions are a death sentence’

New rules have killed us

The move to Tier Two has been a ‘death sentence’ for one Northern bar after it took just £20 on Saturday night.

Mark and Amy Hanson, owners of Edge Venue, said they had just two customers all evening – and Saturday is the only day they say is worth opening anyway.

Mrs Hanson posted a video of the deserted venue in Stockton-On-Tees, County Durham, saying: ‘Two very kind customers have turned up a little while ago and are trying desperately to drink so we can pay bills… For all those people who think Tier Two is a great thing or a wonderful idea, I know I’m not the only one who thinks actually it’s a death sentence.’

The couple were operating as an events venue until March but reopened as a bar last month to try to survive the pandemic. Mr Hanson said the first three weeks ‘were doing the job’ and keeping them afloat, but after the new rules were introduced this week ‘it’s just killed us again’.

Mark and Amy Hanson, owners of Edge Venue, said they had just two customers all evening – and Saturday is the only day they say is worth opening anyway

Mark and Amy Hanson, owners of Edge Venue, said they had just two customers all evening – and Saturday is the only day they say is worth opening anyway

Half-term holidays axed due to curfew confusion

Thousands of half-term holidays have been cancelled because of uncertainty over virus restrictions.

Research by VisitBritain at the start of October showed that 10 per cent of people were planning an overnight trip.

Half of those surveyed blamed Covid restrictions for not feeling confident enough to travel and a similar proportion cited concerns about catching the virus.

Tourism bosses say the situation is now worse because parts of the UK are under Tier Two or Tier Three restrictions.

Rob Paterson, of hotel chain Best Western, said bookings are down 70 per cent in the North and Scotland, compared to last year, and 65 per cent in London. 

We’re at breaking point

It had been the centre of village life for generations – but with Lancashire being thrust into the highest level of lockdown restrictions, the future looks bleak for the Tillotsons Arms in Chipping, Preston. ‘I’m absolutely devastated,’ landlady Janet Watson said. ‘It’s a total shock – I didn’t expect we’d be placed in Tier Three so soon.’

While the pub does serve food, its remote location in a community of just 1,000 people means it may no longer be viable. ‘We’re a little village in the middle of nowhere,’ Mrs Watson said.

In addition to backing greater support for hospitality staff who lose their jobs, Mrs Watson believes more should be done to help businesses like hers. She added: ‘We’re already at breaking point with the restrictions as they are, but this is going to push us over the edge… If we have to close, it tears the heart out of the village.’

Ludicrous and frustrating

The owner of a restaurant said his sales were down 40 per cent on Saturday due to new lockdown rules in the capital.

Andy Jones, owner of Jones and Sons in Dalston, north London, said 540 people who had been booked in on that day had cancelled.

The restaurant normally seats 400 in two sittings, but the vast majority of the tables are indoors meaning only household groups are allowed.

Mr Jones said the lost bookings, which across the day included brunch and dinner, amount to around £25,000 in revenue. ‘It’s ludicrous… this is the worst outcome for hospitality possible,’ he said.

‘Couples who don’t live together aren’t allowed to go out on dates, colleagues aren’t allowed to go out after work for a drink together. That economy in London is huge.’ Mr Jones said this year he has lost more than £600,000 in revenue due to Covid restrictions, but still has a £110,000 annual rent bill to pay.

He added: ‘It’s very, very frustrating to see eight years of my life potentially go down the drain because no one is standing up [for] the industry.’



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