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Recovery will be ‘slow and phased’, Garcia says after restaurateurs voice concerns

Restaurants and cafes were given the green-light to open their doors to clients under strict restrictions in order to “achieve a balance” between a new normality as we move away from the Covid-19 lockdown.

But with high fixed costs of rent, coupled with other factors including a lack of tourism, limited capacity and low numbers of locals out and about while still following public health advice, there is fear over the long-term future of local catering facilities.

Speaking at yesterday’s press briefing, Deputy Chief Minister Dr Joseph Garcia addressed some of the concerns expressed by the Gibraltar Catering Association and others in the industry.

“As we move away from lockdown into this new normal, it will be a slow and phased process,” Dr Garcia said.

“Restaurant owners will be allowed certain numbers of occupancy within the restaurants, and those numbers will increase as we move from one phase into the next.”

“We are also talking about permits from the Public Health Department, but we need to balance the two.”

“We need to balance the need to move to a new normality and the need to move away from lockdown bearing in mind we are in a state of public health emergency.”

Dr Garcia explained that the CELAC committee has discussed concerns brought forward by the Rock’s businesses and that the Minister for Business, Vijay Daryanani, has been in touch with the local restaurateurs.

“I don’t think this is a one size fits all,” Dr Garcia said.

“I think there may be restaurants that are not doing well and others that are doing quite well.”

Although Gibraltar’s restaurants were made to close almost overnight at the start of the lockdown, many adapted their business model after being allowed to offer delivery or takeaway services.

One major concern has been the high fixed costs of rents for businesses set in premium locations across the Rock.

The Government introduced a set of measures in support of businesses, such as the BEAT Covid payment schemes, and waived rents for those businesses of which they are the landlord.

In addition, the Government sought to encourage private landlords to provide flexibility over the second quarter of the calendar year to affected businesses in relevant sectors.

In addition, the Government waived all business rates for affected businesses for the second quarter and deferred water and electricity charges for the month of April to be paid over the next 12 months.

“The measures to assist the business community with their fixed expenses, which is taken already, also apply to the catering and the restaurant trade,” Dr Garcia said.

“We have eased the burden to having to pay employees, we have also taken measures to remove the rent completely where the Government is the landlord, we have pushed private landlords into the situation where they offer 50% of rate reduction to tenants, and also increased deadlines in terms of Companies House and filing, and reduced a rates waiver as well.”

“The Government has taken a considerable amount of action and taken many steps to try and reduce the impact of these fixed costs on the business community.”

“Those that are opening will be able to continue to benefit from some of the ones we have taken, then some of the ones that are open may lose to some of the benefits, such as introducing measures for employees that are partly active to be able to rotate their staff.”

“I think the Government has already taken a considerable number of steps and I think there may be elements of the trade that are worse affected than others, these are the issues that are discussed by my colleagues in the CELAC committee as we speak.”

These financial measures are in place until the end of this month, but pressed on whether some of these will be extended into the third quarter, Dr Garcia said: “We are now discussing on what we will be able to offer in the future going forward after July 1.”