Rick CressmanImage copyright
Rick Cressman

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Rick Cressman runs Nailcote Hall, a hotel near Coventry

At the moment, Rick Cressman says his hotel Nailcote Hall, near Coventry, is losing £40,000 a month, with bank borrowing his only financial lifeline.

The hotel had been making £3m a year.

“Fixed costs mean we must operate at scale,” he told the BBC. “We would need to operate at 50% capacity just to turn a small profit.”

The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) says almost half of UK firms have been unable to fully restart operations despite restrictions being eased.

Its coronavirus impact tracker – billed as the largest business survey of its type – found that weak consumer demand and possible local lockdowns were seen as obstacles.

‘Bit of a punt’

Nailcote Hall, which employed 80 staff before lockdown, was a popular venue for weddings, party nights and visitors to the nearby National Exhibition Centre (NEC).

It plans to re-open on 24 August, but since Mr Cressman took the decision another big NEC event he was hoping would bring in business has been cancelled.

“We are taking a little bit of a punt,” he says.

Mr Cressman is hopeful his customers will return relatively quickly, saying many bookings “haven’t been cancelled, just pushed back”.

Even so, the hospitality sector has strict distancing rules, so getting back to the days when the hotel had average wedding parties of 100 guests could be a long way off.

His staff are gradually being brought back from furlough, with training underway and the re-arrangement of the hotel to make it Covid-19 compliant in progress.

Mr Cressman said: “We need to get up to 50% capacity within about two months. I’ve been in this business 40 years. I’m sure many people with less experience would find it overwhelming.”

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The BCC’s survey of firms between 6 July and 10 July found that while demand is up since the depths of the lockdown, most firms are only operating at about half of their pre-virus capacity.

Meanwhile, almost half said they had seen a slight or significant decrease in revenue from UK customers compared to June.

And some 43% saw an increase in late payments from customers when compared with the last six months of 2019.

Adam Marshall, BCC director general, said: “Businesses are grappling with reduced customer demand, an on-going cash crunch, and the potential for further lockdowns during an uncertain autumn and winter ahead,” Mr Marshall said.

“The prime minister’s encouragement to return to workplaces and further updates to business guidance will not be enough on their own.”

Fewer job adverts

The survey was carried out before Boris Johnson’s announcement last week that coronavirus restrictions will ease further in England under plans for what he called a “significant return to normality” by Christmas.

Under the new guidelines, people may use public transport for journeys immediately and companies will have more discretion to bring staff back to work from 1 August.

However, economists say that despite the easing of lockdown and hopes that the pace of staff being brought back from furlough will be pick up, the outlook for jobs was gloomy.

Jack Kennedy, economist at Indeed, an employment website which helped produce the BCC’s report, said: “The slowdown in consumer activity mirrors hiring activity in the UK.

“Today, there are 60% fewer job postings than there were before the outbreak of Covid-19, and so far there are few signs of a V-shaped recovery in vacancies.

“The furlough scheme has been an important lifeline to millions of people but the fear is there will be a sudden rise in unemployment after that umbilical cord has been severed,” he said.



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