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Further blow to meetings as UK plunges back into lockdown

Prime minister Boris Johnson has announced a third national lockdown in England, expected to remain in place until the middle of February.

With similar measures now in place in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, the whole of the UK is now living with strict restrictions on movement.

The lockdown regulations in England echo those of the first lockdown in 2020, with only some differences, including being able to exercise outside with one other person from a different household.

Where business meetings and events are concerned, all hospitality venues, accommodation such as hotels and all entertainment venues such as concert halls will remain closed.

The new government guidance does not specifically detail the rules and regulations around business meetings and events, but in the broader context, only those from the same household, those in a support bubble, and those meeting one other person from a separate household for outdoor exercise are permitted to gather, therefore business meetings and events are assumed to be prohibited.

However, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced a new grant scheme to help retail, hospitality and leisure businesses to stay afloat until spring. The grants are worth up to £9,00 per property. Funds will be made available through local authorities in addition to business rates relief and the furlough scheme.

Regardless of new grant schemes, Juliet Price, consultant executive director at HBAA believes the latest lockdown will spell the end of many venues and agencies, forever.

“This latest lockdown, combined with the prospect of no live events or meetings until later this year, threatens to close the doors of many venues and agencies for good. Despite the Bounceback loans and furlough extension, they cannot survive without any income for almost a year.

“It is now essential that the government immediately provides the industry with comprehensive and consistent financial support, accessible to the full range of affected businesses, which HBAA and other industry associations have campaigned for throughout the pandemic. The Treasury‘s announcement today that it is making money available to the hospitality sector as one-off grants, with more money for local authorities to cover other businesses, is welcome and we hope that most events organisations and all those in the supply chain will be eligible.

“We also need a Re-skill and Re-equip fund to help train staff to run hybrid and virtual events and buy the equipment required. And we need support to train more Mental Health First Aiders who will be lifesavers as the level of impact and despair reaches its peak. The widespread roll-out of vaccinations has given us a glimmer of hope. But for many businesses, it will be too late.”

Travel around the UK, outside of the village, town or part of the city you live in and international travel are prohibited unless you are legally permitted to do so, “for example, because it is for work,”  the gov.uk website stated.

If the rules are broken, for example, meeting in larger groups, the police can take action. This action includes a fixed penalty notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400. If you hold or are involved in holding, an illegal gathering of over 30 people, the police can issue fines of £10,000.

The national lockdown announcement came soon after the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s (DCMS) Visitor Economy Guidance confirmed the rules on business meetings and events in Tier 4 areas. The now outdated guidance said: “business meetings for work, training or education purposes can still take place but only where the event cannot be delayed, where it is not possible to carry out the activity from home, and if social distancing can be maintained and the venue can demonstrate it has followed Covid-19 guidance.”

England’s rules are due to be reviewed on 15 February while Scotland’s will be reviewed at the end of January.