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Roxy Ball Room boss Matthew Jones is leading Liverpool businesses in a call for government action to stop the hospitality industry ‘collapsing like a deck of cards’.
Matthew, who owns the bar and games venues with brother Ben, is backing a petition calling for action, with further support to help save companies like his from potentially permanent closure amid the Covid-19 crisis.
“We are grateful for the support with employees’ wages which we are getting – but that is only one of the costs we face,” he says.
“One of the biggest things many of us are struggling with is rents – and we need landlords to give us payment breaks.
“It’s impossible to pay large rents when businesses are closed and there is no money coming in, and a break would mean that when we are able to re-open we can put everything into making them a success again.”
There are eight Roxy Ball Room venues, two of which are in Liverpool and six in other UK cities.
“The rent on the Rainford Square venue in Liverpool is £175,000 per year, just to give an idea of the sort of money we are talking about,” he adds. “One landlord we have is insisting on monthly rental payments rather than quarterly payments which is still a struggle when we have no income, but others are not playing ball and want quarterly payments as normal”.
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Roxy Ball Room, MOJO, Ghetto Golf, Fit Food Shack. Joe Black Coffee and Wake & Cate are, he says, among the Merseyside businesses supporting the Hospitality Union’s #NationalTimeOut initiative, which is calling for a nine-month pause in rent payments for the hospitality sector.
In a letter which has been sent to Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Alok Sharma, the business owners have said: “We understand that our landlords have covenants which they must satisfy as indeed their lenders require to balance their books. Government intervention is required here to protect all these levels, without it everything could collapse like a house of cards.”
Matthew says: “We are asking for a nine-month break for tenants which can be added to the end of any lease agreement.
“This is the first time operators have stood together to highlight this issue and to ask for help.
“We have started a petition to lobby support to get parliament to look at this issue and for which we need 10,000 signatures – we are currently on around 6,000.
“We need to get as many signatures as possible to make sure people are aware of the position we are in and that we need help.
“There’s a lot of conversations about wages and supporting employees which is great – but that’s of no use if the businesses they work for go bust due to rent payments. Once restrictions are lifted there will be nothing for them to go back to.
“The government has said notices cannot be served by landlords but that hasn’t stopped some doing just that.
“We understand they have obligations too which is why we are asking for government intervention on all levels so that this situation can be resolved. If we get something that can be put to landlords to support us, that will help us all to get through this a lot easier or at all! Until then some are trying to carry on collecting money like nothing’s happened.”
Offers to defer payments simply shifts the problem to later on in the year, adds Matthew. It takes the pressure off but only in the short-term. “You can’t operate a business with no income for six months and then still pay a full year’s rent.
“We can take out loans but even if we secure them, the interest will be so high that many will be unable to pay them back. And we may be asked for personal guarantees which put everything we have on the line.
“Without help many bars, restaurants and venues will not re-open. Some were struggling before Coronavirus closure and this may have given them an excuse to call it a day; others will want to make a go of it but find themselves without the money to do it.”
He stresses: “People’s habits might change after closure. But they will still want to go to the pub, they will still want to go out and meet friends. But unless we get help, many of those places will no longer be there.
“We are calling on the government for help to keep our businesses afloat and places open; and for the public to support us by signing the petition so we can get enough signatures for them to consider it.
“As the letter to the government says, these are the places where people met their loved ones, where they laughed, where they sang, where they danced and where they ate.
“We built our dreams so they can be the backdrop of their golden memories. And we want that to continue, for all of us.”
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