Amid all his rhetorical twirls and boasts about the (undoubted) success of the vaccination programme, a simple, devastating truth could not be concealed.
Pubs and restaurants will not be allowed to function properly for another three months, robbing those of us who work in the sector the lifeline of the lucrative spring and Easter trade.
When the current lockdown was enforced, it was the prospect of this business which gave us hope that we could bolster our battered balance sheets.
Back before Christmas we were told that the NHS had to be protected from the so-called R rate bursting through the 1.0 level.
As I listened to Boris Johnson outlining his so-called roadmap out of lockdown to the House of Commons yesterday, my frustration turned to anger, writes Jeremy King, CEO of Corbin & King restaurant group
Now it is down to 0.6 and falling, along with deaths and hospital admissions, but the goalposts have been moved abruptly, and we are now told we have to endure another three months of ruinous delay.
The most ridiculous part of this is that by the middle of April all people over 50 – the most vulnerable group among our restaurant customers – will have been offered a vaccine.
What’s more, we in the trade worked incredibly hard last year to make our premises Covid-secure. Staff were re-trained, tables removed to conform to social distancing regulations, thermometers installed, perspex screens and signage erected, gel cards and sanitation purchased.
As a result, restaurants and pubs were broadly able to function within the tier system, and crucially, keep customers and staff safe. Even the Government now concedes that hospitality venues have hardly been a factor in Covid transmission.
Pubs and restaurants will not be allowed to function properly for another three months, robbing those of us who work in the sector the lifeline of the lucrative spring and Easter trade. Pictured: Diners in Soho before the last lockdown
Now Mr Johnson is gambling with the health of the hospitality sector – he cannot know how many of these business will ever reopen.
I can tell him bluntly: significant numbers of the businesses currently drawing down furlough money will never actually reopen because they are holed below the financial waterline.
As CEO of the Corbin & King restaurant group, I have worked hard to keep our 600 furloughed employees informed of when they can expect to return to their jobs and normal life.
My directors and I keep in touch with all of them because we know so many have lost income – often from a modest salary – are facing eviction from their homes and are in a very bad place in terms of their mental health.
Many who came here from abroad to work have loyally stayed in Britain, thousands of miles away from family, but are beginning to despair.
As CEO of the Corbin & King restaurant group, Mr King says he has worked hard to keep his 600 furloughed employees informed of when they can expect to return to their jobs and normal life
Yesterday evening I had to sit down to compose one of my regular emails to update them on the implications of the Prime Minister’s announcement.
I found it very difficult, because the Government’s position is literally inexplicable and illogical.
Those of us who work in an industry that before Covid employed some three million people, generating revenues of some £72billion pounds a year, are offered no proper explanation of how these decisions are reached.
Nor are we properly consulted, or asked for our input.
Such arrogance led to the imposition of the ridiculous curfew in pubs and restaurants last year, which actually increased the infection risk as it led to the mass ejection of customers at 10pm and a subsequent rush to public transport.
We restaurateurs, innkeepers, club operators, and cafe owners generate billions of pounds of tax receipts in payroll taxes, VAT and profits, and yet – frankly – are treated with utter contempt.
Those of us who work in an industry that before Covid employed some three million people, generating revenues of some £72billion pounds a year, are offered no proper explanation of how these decisions are reached (stock photo)
We learn about our futures on Twitter, where journalists faithfully report the leaks from ministers, who are trying to soften us up for further economic punishment.
You can see from the way these announcements are handled that no one in this government has any experience of the restaurant trade and, despite repeated pleas, we are refused a Minister for Hospitality.
We are told we can open for outdoor trade in April.
But this fails to take account of the weather at that time of year, or the fact that most restaurants and bars cannot run a restaurant based on a few tables outside.
The economics of purely outdoor dining don’t stack up for most of us and even those blessed with large terraces have to cope with the consequences of April showers when they have already purchased and prepared food, and laid on staff.
My greatest frustration is that Mr Johnson is squandering the opportunity presented by the great success of the vaccination programme.
This was once to have been the key to our bounce back. Instead, we are in the ridiculous situation of lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to opening up our economy, having led the international vaccination drive.
I know we have to get it right this time but we need to know the rationale behind decisions.
Though I despair of this government’s treatment of my trade, I refuse to abandon all hope for the future.
On the last night of opening before the current lockdown was enforced, diners spontaneously sang ‘We’ll Meet Again’ in our restaurants.
It was a touching affirmation of my belief that our staff and our customers are united in their passionate desire to restore a world in keeping with the essential conviviality of the human spirit.