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Lockdown 'frustration': Deputy PM gets food for thought from hospitality industry

Lincoln Tan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 18 Nov 2021, 5:38PM
There was no Friday conference today as Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson was waiting on his Covid test result after his Auckland trip yesterday. (Photo / Sylvie Whinray)
There was no Friday conference today as Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson was waiting on his Covid test result after his Auckland trip yesterday. (Photo / Sylvie Whinray)

Lockdown 'frustration': Deputy PM gets food for thought from hospitality industry

Lincoln Tan, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Thu, 18 Nov 2021, 5:38PM

Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson says he has heard first-hand of the Auckland hospitality industry's "frustration" after a day of meetings in the city.

Robertson told reporters he had spent the day speaking with Auckland businesses about the next steps for the region and the country.

Today was a "great opportunity" to come to Auckland to hear from businesses.

There has been frustration, but he had not heard much anger, Robertson said.

However there was now a clear pathway and a plan for Auckland.

Robertson's visit started at a medical centre in South Auckland, before he met in the city with the Business Chamber of Commerce to hear how businesses are operating in Auckland and what the challenges are.

"It was good to hear it from those business representatives," Robertson said.

When asked if he spoke with the right people, Robertson said there were a number of members from Cabinet who had seen the challenges businesses have faced over the last three months.

Asked why the traffic light system will start at the red level, Robertson said the health system was coping but under stress and Government had to make sure it managed through that.

"We don't want Auckland to be at the red level any longer than it needs to be," he said.

"When we change settings we need to be careful."

Robertson said when decisions were made they were based on public health advice.

"When we are making decisions like this we base it on public health advice. Hospitality venues by their nature involves people not wearing masks ... we're very close to where hospitality can come in but we need to balance the risk."

Robertson said Auckland was "very close" to a point where hospitality can reopen.

"Now we move to a different phase. Today we discussed with businesses a transitional payment. We're just finalising that now and will have more to say about that when the transition starts," he said.

"At the red level all businesses can operate, albeit with some restrictions."

At the red level, businesses will be able to open, however Robertson hoped the region could move to orange quickly.

Aucklanders would notice a difference when the region moves into the red level.

Looking towards November 29, Robertson said businesses are preparing for that week.

The Government would consider the status of the outbreak, and vaccination status.

"We do have to be careful, just as we have always done," Robertson said.

He had met today with business owners from a number of different sectors - including construction and hospitality.

"I heard very directly from them," he said.

"It's not that we haven't heard from people over the last three months. No one is underestimating the pressure, the frustration, the stress people have felt.

"There is now a clear pathway forward."

Robertson said the Speaker changing the rules, allowing MPs to travel to Auckland without having to isolate upon return to Parliament, paved the way for him to visit Auckland.

"We have been communicating - we tweaked resurgence support payment, partly as a result of talking and listening to business."

Asked why hairdressers are not allowed to reopen, Robertson said they were considered "high risk" as a close contact service.

"The more things you have open the bigger the risk," he said

"The likes of hairdressers have done it tough. We want to continue to see what we can do from 29 November."

On the international border reopening, Robertson said it will be managed in a "careful and methodical" way.

"The Prime Minister has already said before Christmas we will be able to say more on the border."

Robertson said there are still a number of cases which are caught at MIQ despite pre-departure testing.

"Every week we get cases coming through our border. Opening that up, math will tell you, we will get a number of more cases seeded here - not only in Auckland."

Robertson said as Finance Minister over the last four years he has spent time speaking and listening with business owners.

"I know there are high levels of stress," he said.

"I think the level of support the Government has provided to business over the last 20 month has been substantial. We've been there, alongside businesses. I'll keep meeting with people, keep talking and listening."

Bar owner: 'We are in desperate need of help'

Robertson's visit to Auckland today is his first face-to-face meetings with those in the struggling hospitality industry since lockdown began three months ago.

This comes a week after Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's visit to the city. She did not have any formal meetings with hospitality representatives during that visit.

Robertson's visit comes at a time when the effects of the lockdown and pandemic have claimed the scalps of several iconic eateries including top Auckland restaurant Euro and high-end diner Saxon + Parole.

Sunny Kaushal, the owner of New Zealand's oldest microbrewery pub and restaurant the Shakespeare Tavern, said his business was on the brink of closure.

The tavern turns 125 years old next year, but Kaushal said with the business losing more than $10,000 a week it might not make it to its quasquicentennial without targeted financial support from the Government.

"No CBD business owners have been told of the Deputy PM's visit as far as I'm aware, and he is coming at a time when most hospitality businesses will be closed," Kaushal.

Sunny Kaushal, owner of Shakespeare Tavern, says his business is on the brink of closure. Photo / File

"We are in desperate need of help, but each time being left disappointed by these visits which are by and large stage managed and only meant for politicians to tick the boxes."

Kaushal, 53, said it was a great worry for many businesses that the Resurgence Support Payments would stop when New Zealand transitions into the "traffic light system".

He said many would struggle to pay fixed costs such as rent with no income or support.

Viv Beck, CEO, Heart of the City.

Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said Auckland's central city had lost more than $80 million in consumer spending since the latest lockdown started and many businesses were "screaming out for help".

Owners of Euro, which opened in 1999, said in a statement early in October that the ongoing challenges caused by the pandemic over the past 18 months had meant it was no longer sustainable to open.

Marisa Bidois, Restaurant Association CEO.

The Nourish Group's Euro had been an institution and founder Richard Sigley said the decision was extremely difficult.

A day later Saxon + Parole announced its closure, blaming New Zealand's border restrictions.

Restaurant Association of New Zealand chief executive Marisa Bidois said hospitality business owners were "frantic with worry" about how they could survive much longer.

"We have met with the minister recently where we outlined the need for support for hospitality, in particular those businesses in Auckland that have been the hardest hit," Bidois said.

"We look forward to hearing more about how the Government plans to support Auckland businesses over the coming months."

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff had earlier said in a letter to Robertson that the continuation of lockdown was imposing strain on people and businesses.

But Goff said while he appreciated the many demands from businesses for support, the Government clearly would not be able to meet the costs from all of them.

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