BUSINESSES and business leaders across County Durham, Newcastle, Sunderland and other areas affected by the local lockdown announcement in the North East have spoken about what it means for the region.

The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock announced today that Newcastle, County Durham, Gateshead, South Tyneside, North Tyneside and Northumberland would have stricter restrictions from midnight.

Simon Hanson, FSB (Federation of Small Businesses) North East Development Manager, said: “We welcome the regional approach taken by the seven local authorities across the North East to coordinate the response to the local restrictions that have been announced.

"It’s vital that smaller businesses are supported for as long as these measures are in place across the region. Smaller businesses will need financial support to make the changes needed to be Covid secure and adapt to these new measures. It is absolutely critical that we get grant support to small and micro businesses quickly to help them adapt and provide some much-needed support for cashflow.”

Some business leaders welcomed the caution, however others reiterated that shops, pubs, bars and restaurants were still open for business.

A spokesperson for Durham BID (Business Improvement District), said: “We have watched, with bated breath, the increase in infection rates in the North East and known that the imposition of local restrictions akin to those seen elsewhere were a very real possibility. Clearly the infection rate in County Durham is considerably lower than those in neighbouring areas but, as has also been seen elsewhere, preventative measures have been applied to County Durham as well.

"A curfew on business opening late into the evening will clearly limit the opportunity for businesses to try and offset the losses incurred as a result of the lockdown but I think all parties will appreciate that it is better that we try and manage the situation flexibly so that businesses can still trade. All businesses and stakeholders in the city would urge everyone to adhere to the new rule of six and not to mix households. 

“We each have to take responsibility for limiting the spread of the virus, not just for our own health and that of our families but for those that work in businesses and also to help protect the local economy. 

“Students will shortly be returning to Durham City and they will be welcomed with open arms as an important and integral part of the local community. Businesses in the city rely on this injection of custom and this year, more than ever before, students will be encouraged to shop locally in the city. The message to all is clear; Durham IS open for business – simply respect social distancing measures, wear a face covering where appropriate and wash hands. 

“These simple steps can ensure that Durham remains open and a safe place to visit.”

Jonathan Walker, assistant director of policy, North East England Chamber of Commerce said: “With the significant rise in numbers of Covid-19 cases we accept further restrictions are necessary to bring the situation under control. We welcome the clear and consistent approach to this across local authority boundaries. Businesses want to play their part in tackling this pandemic and the overwhelming majority are doing all they can to keep both their employees and the public safe.  

“The fight against Covid-19 might be a long one and ongoing business support from Government, as well as a comprehensive, functioning test and trace system will be needed to ensure that our economic health is protected alongside our public health.”

The tough new restrictions include a ban on households mixing with other households, a curfew on pubs, restaurants and bars, and restrictions on non-essential public transport. 

Sharon Appleby, Head of Business Operations at Sunderland BID, said: “It is unfortunate that tighter restrictions have had to come into place across the North East but it is vitally important that the general public does everything they can to make this as short lived as possible. We want to appeal to everyone to stick to the guidelines, not only for personal safety and wellbeing but also for businesses, otherwise it’s going to have a devastating effect on the city’s economy. 

“The position we are currently in is due to the fact that people aren’t taking the severity of the situation seriously enough and the length of time these restrictions are in place is going to be determined by how responsible people act for the duration.”

Sarah Glendinning, CBI North East Director, said: “Businesses in the North East know public health must come first and have been doing all they can to keep staff and customers safe, whether it’s pubs, shops, factories or offices. 

“This news will come as a bitter disappointment for many businesses across the North East, but the Government cannot stand by as infection rates rise in the region. Taking action now can help to maintain confidence and avoid further restrictions on businesses and households in the months ahead. 

“Credit must go to the seven local authorities involved who have worked closely together, recognising the risk to the wider North East and reinforces the need for local and national working.

“With the number of new local restrictions on the rise, the Government will need to take an urgent look at the business support packages for the autumn, including a successor to the furlough scheme.”

Hospitality for food and drink will be restricted to table service only and late night restrictions on operating hours will be introduced so leisure and entertainment venues must close between 10pm and 5am.

Gary Forrest, chairman of The High Street Group, said: “If you follow the letter of what Matt Hancock said in his statement and not mix with those outside your household it will have a devastating effect on the hospitality industry. There is a distinct lack of clarity. How difficult is it to give some clarity and communicate whether you can socialise with friends and family at a table service-only restaurant?   

“The country needs a long-term strategy. At the moment everything is reactive and just short terms measures, and this is a perfect example of that. We have a lot of hospitality venues across the North East and we received notification of this two days ago and all our staff, management team and everyone connected to the business has been working really long hours with sleepless nights to work out how we keep the business moving forward and ride this storm. 

“This sort of action, without due consideration and discussion with operators, it just beggar’s belief.  I am no scientist, but what I do know is that we have been operating table service and social distancing across all our restaurants and bars since we reopened. We’ve managed, even with those in place, to create an ambience for friends and family to socialise together safely.  

“In all that time we are yet to have a visit from anybody inspecting whether we are doing things in the correct manner. One of the options that could have been done as a test base is having a lot more random inspections and those that fail are shut down and those of us that are passing the tests, and working incredibly hard to implemented all the measures the government has asked us to do and are enforcing them can stay open. That would have had a bigger effect earlier in the process and could have helped control any outbreak.”

Wayne Richardson, co-director of The Herbal Gin Company bar in Newton Aycliffe said that the only real change to the bar would be mandatory table service.
He said: “It’s no different - the only difference is we now have to do table service.”