Dear Mark Drakeford, | Annwyl Mark Drakeford,
We are writing this letter exactly one year after the first lockdown was introduced in Wales, when the doors of our 3 restaurants closed for almost 4 months.
Now, 12 months on and two further lockdowns later, we are in the same situation - only made worse by the fact that our finances have been completely drained.
We have dutifully followed the directives issued by Welsh Government and have largely been pleased with the way Welsh Government has handled the crisis to this point.
Recently however, we have had reason to question your decision-making and - particularly as we see other areas of the UK begin to relax their restrictions and being given a clear road map to the new normal - we are beginning to feel left behind and somewhat abandoned.
We have some key questions which until now, you seem unable or (perhaps more likely) are unwilling to answer.
We support 150 staff, most of whom are furloughed, and we are increasingly concerned for their mental health and general wellbeing.
Staff surveys clearly indicate they want and need to get back to work.
Are you fully aware of the damage being done to the mental health of those working in hospitality, due to the prolonged closure of sites and sustained uncertainty regarding their futures?
Try as we might, we cannot stand between our team and their struggles indefinitely. We are unable to replace the consistency, security, and social balance which is afforded by work.
Every day we remain closed, we lose more money, increase our level of debt, and ultimately this makes recovery more difficult for us.
From the very outset of the pandemic, we committed to retaining our staff at all costs.
Through 7 months of lockdown closure, our staff National Insurance and Pension contributions have cost the business in excess of £200,000 to date.
While support via Job Retention Scheme; Business Rates Relief fund and ERF Sector Specific funding is, of course greatly appreciated, this does not go far enough to cover all our operating costs and losses during closure periods.
We cannot reclaim this cost - accrued simply for refusing to make any of our team redundant - and many additional overheads are also not fully covered through funding.
How much more debt do we and other hospitality businesses have to incur before we are forced to start making redundancies and can begin rebuilding our balance sheets?
Other nations in the United Kingdom have been given their roadmap - enabling them to engage with suppliers; recruit and put the necessary training and refresher courses in place to help staff back into the workplace.
How do you expect us to plan a reopening with no clear dates laid out for us to work to?
Does Welsh Government really, honestly understand the nature of our business?
We cannot simply just turn on the tap, flip a switch and away we go. We need weeks, months even, to put everything in place to open both safely, and efficiently.
Every day, dozens of people ask us when they can expect to come and dine with us again.
Ours is a family restaurant business, and we have invested tens of thousands of pounds on our sites to ensure they are safe to return to.
During the Summer of 2020, when we were permitted to trade, we welcomed over 200,000 customers into our business.
Not one Track and Trace incident was reported, not one member of staff tested positive.
We know how desperately our customers need to get back to some sort of normal - and dining out safely - even outside on our terraces would bring an enormous sense relief and comfort to tens of thousands of people.
What science are you following that suggests that sitting outside, in a well-managed, safe restaurant environment, is more dangerous than sitting inside a hair salon for two hours getting a hairdo?
What makes the science you are following more valid than that science being followed by England, Ireland, and Scotland; all of whom have given sensible time frames for the opening of hospitality?
Will you not please share this science, so we can all understand why Wales was first to lockdown and last to unlock?
When the Chancellor announced he would be continuing the reduced VAT rate on food until September we were delighted - it would help us rebuild our balance sheet and give us a real chance to clear some debt over the Spring and Summer.
How frustrating do you think it might be for us to then have our hands tied, unable to trade at all until May - possibly June or July inside - and unable to take advantage of the significant tax cut, while other nation’s hospitality businesses begin to prosper?
Are you aware of the disadvantage you are creating by your action for Welsh businesses?
How do you expect us to compete with other nations when we are not given the same opportunities?
Mr Drakeford, we are on our knees. We have exhausted our reserves.
Our staff need to work, and our customers need to see our doors open once again.
Our communities need hospitality venues as safe places to socialise & combat feelings of isolation, detachment & loneliness.
Small producers and supply chain businesses need restaurants, cafés and pubs to start moving again.
Every day that the Welsh hospitality industry remains closed - whilst other nations re-open - weakens us all further.
Please share with us a route out of this, and we will accept the caveats and conditions that come with it.
The R rate must stay below a certain figure, hospitalisations and deaths must remain at a low level. This goes without saying.
But we need some answers.
Thank you. Diolch i chi.
- David Evans & Robin Hodgson