An inhospitable time for investment
“I don’t know what we’re supposed to be doing anymore”, complained the lady at the checkout. Probably everyone who overheard her felt the same way. I know I did.
The announcement this week by First Minister Mark Drakeford of further closedowns has left people confused, with many wondering what the previous seventeen days of restrictions was all about.
In some respects, it feels that we’ve come out of a firebreak only to find ourselves back in the frying pan. When we brought the shutters down in March, we did so with a collective sense of purpose. Moreover, we acknowledged this was unlikely to be a one-off measure and that we'd need to safeguard against a second wave if necessary.
Well, here we are; and we’ve reached the stage where most of us can’t remember when we last did something that didn’t require wearing a mask. Conspiracy nut-jobs and ravers aside, we’re all been fairly compliant in Wales but now the cracks are starting to show. That’s unsurprising given the circumstances; and matters aren’t helped by sparsity of answers to some key questions.
What punters and proprietors want to know that if pubs and restaurants are being reclassed as cross-infection hotspots then how on earth does the presence (or absence) of alcohol affect matters?
Whatever the unstated science involved, this week’s impositions feel ill-judged and arbitrary. More worryingly, they carry moral overtones of prohibition from a century ago – with equally negative social consequences.
Officials are already privately admitting that the outcome will be a surge of house parties and gatherings where contagion arising from uncontrolled contact is far more likely. Police also concede that enforcement will be impossible in the face of widespread disobedience.
In this light, ministers will need to ask themselves if they are risking a breakdown in public trust as regards their health safety messaging.
Meanwhile, it’s hard to describe the level of despair among publicans, restaurateurs and hoteliers in the region. Those I’ve spoken with all tell the same story of wasted investment on social-distancing arrangements and how things have reached a critical tipping point.
A few say they simply can’t afford another round of costly stop-start situations and are thinking of closing their doors for good. Several have already done so.
It has been a popular theme at recent regeneration conferences to have speakers talk about the “repositioning” of city centres away from clusters of retail outlets and focus more on leisure and hospitality industries. This sounds like a pretty challenging strategy right now.
I’ve been reading that Swansea will lead the jobs recovery in Wales next year, according to new research. A report looking a growth prospects for the end of 2021 puts us among the top 10 UK cities.
I hope they are right. It would be a tragedy if the huge investment that has gone into making the city centre a more attractive and healthier place is undermined by a lack of joined-up thinking elsewhere.