For sale or rent

The UK government this week launched a call for evidence as it mulled the problem of the huge volumes of commercial rent due as a result of the pandemic. 

Fans of PR – that would be us – were impressed by the government becoming distracted in its work, using the document as a promotional tool for how brilliant it had been in supporting businesses during the pandemic. 

So, while thinking about your submission, you can also be thinking about the “extensive financial support” – some £352bn  – which has come the private sector’s way (not even including the billions spent on PPE). In one paragraph alone “unprecedented” is used twice. Well, yeah. It’s a pandemic.  

It was also riddled with the kind of leprechaun-based optimism which has stymied the sector all year. It talked about how “the publication of the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown provides new certainty upon which landlords and tenants can have meaningful discussions about their ongoing relationship, accumulated rent debt, and ongoing lease terms”.

‘New certainty’? The one thing every business has learned is the virus provides nothing like certainty. Double for hospitality. If social distancing continues in, really, any form, venues cannot open at capacity. And capacity is what drives most of the sector’s businesses. 

Aside from the self congratulations, the message of the document was to be found in paragraph three: “Given the extensive package of support, we do not intend to introduce specific financial support to cover commercial rent debts.”. No, they really don’t. 

So what are they offering? Well, consultation pending (after all, it’s only been a year and who could have seen this coming?), the government is prepared to “step in” if everyone can’t just work it out. Whatever that means. By 30 June when eviction protection ends. So hop to it. Never mind that hospitality businesses won’t know what manner of trading they will be enjoying at that point. 

The British Property Federation has estate that total rent unpaid for UK commercial property between late March 2020 and the end of June 2021 will be up to £7bn. Of that, UKHospitality has estimated that £2bn is to be found in this sector.

Other countries do not have hoteliers banging on the doors of power and asking that someone other than Gordon Ramsay is consulted by the chancellor. It has become popular for governments to offer tax breaks for forgiving landlords and what doesn’t cheer the soul more than a tax break?

Of course there is one method which is guaranteed to solve the issue and that is by providing adequate support to tenants. In France, for example, grants are available based on turnover lost. If you can pay your rent, evidence suggests that rent will be paid.

It’s fair to say that £2bn is a lot of money. But compared to the £35bn test and trace fund? The French government said that hospitality was central to the French way of life and would be protected. The relationship between the government and hospitality remains rambunctious – there is no clear opening date set – but it knows where it stands. In the UK it remains a sideshow, a backdrop for photo calls (expect Boris Johnson thumbs upping in a pub garden near you). To raise your voice, submit your ideas here: 

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/commercial-rents-and-covid-19-call-for-evidence/commercial-rents-and-covid-19-call-for-evidence–2
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