BUSINESS leaders have warned that the government must continue to support the hospitality sector to avoid viable businesses 'falling over.'

As revealed in yesterday's Echo, almost 30,000 job losses were recorded across restaurants and casual dining firms in 2020 as the pandemic drove a 163% jump in job cuts.

New data compiled by the Centre for Retail Research (CRR) has revealed that 29,684 jobs were lost across fine dining, independent businesses and large multiple casual-dining chains during the year.

It represents a sharp increase from 2019, when 11,280 job losses were reported across the sector.

The large increase in job losses comes after firms were hit by two national lockdowns, local lockdown restrictions, curfews, changes to service rules and recently strengthened tiered measures.

The chairman of Bournemouth Town Centre BID, Martin Davies, said there were causes for optimism in the hospitality sector but warned the government must give full support to hospitality businesses especially if tougher restrictions are coming.

He said: "If they don’t do that, we will see viable businesses falling over and that will be a disaster.

"Even in the midst of this crisis there have been a number of new hospitality venues opened, Zim Braai, Kala Thai and Cremma to name just three in Bournemouth Town Centre. That gives me cause to be optimistic and of course the roll out of the vaccination programme."

Mr Davies added that the town centre had "brilliant independent local hospitality businesses that have moved heaven and earth to stay resilient in the face of everything thrown at them."

Trevor Hill, owner of the Mexican restaurant Ojo Rojo in Commercial Road, Bournemouth, said: “As an independent, we are hoping that there will be some positives to come out of this whole situation.

“The hospitality industry is renowned for its low profit margins and survival rates due to over taxing and high overheads. The Covid pandemic as shone a torch onto just how fragile the industry is and how much more support it needs to keep providing the public with their social outlet.

“Rate relief and lower VAT percentages have been a long overdue and welcome change and hopefully more will come in the future. For now though, we are supportive of doing what is necessary to keep the nation safe. We just hope that the support comes during these difficult times to ensure we can keep our employees secure and the business safe until we can trade to our usual levels.”

Steve Reilly, manager of Poole BID: “The data from CRR and Altus reflects what we has been seen in Poole however there are many hospitality business that do see a positive future and it is vital that a package of support measures are in place to see businesses through the coming weeks.

"We have had number of independents launch successfully despite the circumstances, government financial incentives to support both start ups and landlords who offer flexibility and realism will help bring opportunity and jobs to closed units.”

The CRR also said that branch closures by hospitality firms increased by 75.8% to 1,621, compared with 922 in 2019.

According to the real estate adviser Altus Group, in England, given the Tier adjustments which came into effect on New Year's Eve, 4,946 restaurants are in Tier 3 and 22,082 are in Tier 4 and are all closed except for takeaway.

Professor Joshua Bamfield, director of the CRR, said the pandemic accelerated a major shake-up of the sector which was already taking place.

He said: "The sector experienced rapid growth in outlets during 2014 to 2017 as successful chains added additional branches.

"But they frequently paid too much whilst maintaining quality standards proved difficult.

"The need to cut costs caused by over-expansion, increased competition and weak consumer demand produced a crisis in the industry before the pandemic."