Business leaders in North Wales have condemned the new round of covid restrictions as “disproportionate and unjust”.
According to the North Wales and Mersey Dee Business Council, the tourism hospitality and leisure sector felt particularly hard done by following the news that pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes will not be allowed to sell alcohol and will be forced to shut at 6pm.
After an emergency Private Sector meeting organised by the Business Council they have written an open letter to First Minister Mark Drakeford voicing business frustration, given that current restrictions in North Wales have already arguably been effective in keeping Covid-19 rates down.
The letter calls on the Welsh Government to provide them with the scientific evidence to back up their decision in relation to North Wales.
Since the announcement about extra restrictions, large numbers of businesses have had to cancel festive season bookings worth tens of thousands of pounds.
While news of the £340 million business support fund was welcome, it was vital that the money handed out before the end of the year so that businesses were given a vital lifeline to help them survive into 2021.
They are also asking for assurances that lessons had been learned from the shambolic way the last tranche of funding was administered.
In the letter the Business Council said: “Imposing even tighter restrictions on our region without the regional evidence to support such measures could be construed as disproportionate and unjust to the people and businesses of North Wales.
“Our businesses across the region have like businesses across Wales and the wider UK invested considerable time and money to make their venues and businesses Covid safe and direct evidence of instances of them being linked to any material extent for transmission of COVID-19 seems not to exist.
“Since the announcement of extra restrictions in Wales last week, large numbers of businesses have had to cancel bookings worth tens of thousands of pounds to them, essentially wiping out any real hope of a last ditch source of revenue at the end of a disastrous year, with expectations of the same for the coming months.
“Businesses feel incredibly hard done to in the North given our Covid-19 infection rates and the hard work and investment they have made.
“We are asking Welsh Government to provide the evidence to show that North Wales has growing infection rates, for example amongst the under 25s or over 60s.
“We welcome the announcement of £340m of business support funding, given the information currently available, and note that delivery is essential for the bulk of these funds before the end of December, because of the severely impaired cash flow of many locally-owned small businesses.
“We ask very clearly that, in regards to the £180 million ERF Sector Specific Fund, lessons are immediately learned from the missteps of ERF3 and the first come first served nature of that fund and the technical difficulties the majority of businesses had in trying to apply for it in the 24hrs it was open.
“We understand that Business Wales is amending the process by implementing a triage tool ahead of the scheme opening for this new funding stream but nonetheless the point needs to be made.
“As regards who is eligible for the £180 million fund, the newly published information mentions those ‘materially impacted with a greater than 60% impact of turnover as a result of the restrictions.
“This means that a business which loses half of its key December turnover – between 15-25% of their annual takings – is not eligible for support.
“This is inappropriate as a level given the catastrophic year our businesses have had and the importance of the Christmas trading period. Previous funding rounds have run with much lower impact criteria of 40% for funding eligibility and this should be the case again this time.”
Ashley Rogers, Commercial Director at the North Wales Business Council said” To ensure as many businesses and local jobs are saved as possible, the open letter to the First Minister calls for delivery before Christmas of the newly announced business supports and a proper package of information and guidance for businesses on any future changes.
“That future package has to be delivered in a time sensitive way, at the same time as announcements are made and include the regional evidence for North Wales on making the changes along with all the relevant details our businesses need to plan.”
Jim Jones, Chief Executive of North Wales Tourism, said: ““The ‘Prohibition’ placed on North Wales tourism, hospitality and leisure businesses has been put in place without any presentation of evidence to show it is justified for our region.
“Our rates for Covid-19 positive tests are steady or reducing and show Welsh Government current restrictions are working.
“We have pubs that cannot sell beer and restaurants that cannot serve dinner, all without the data to prove this is the right choice for the Welsh Government to make.
“We ask political leaders and our grass roots businesses to support this open letter from the Private Sector.”