By David Mohyuddin QC, Radcliffe Chambers (www.radcliffechambers.com)
If going on holiday is a possibility for you, the relaxation to the pandemic restrictions due to take place on 17 May will be longed for and much anticipated.
But what about the long-suffering hospitality businesses that have been closed or doing their best to trade in whatever way they could? With uncertainty around overseas holidays, an every- growing number of us vaccinated and confidence improving, many are planning a staycation which, for those businesses, will bring a welcome uplift in activity.Whitbread, the owners of Premier Inn, suffered a £1b loss last year but are expecting booking numbers to strengthen with coastal locations full.A similar picture can be expected throughout the hospitality sector.
So far, so positive. But some of those businesses will be facing financial uncertainty and will be carrying the burden of borrowing taken to survive lockdown. Staff will have been furloughed or worse. Supply chains will have been constricted and suppliers themselves could be facing their own problems.
Balancing existing demands including COVID-debt with the need to gear up for the season ahead is an immediate and real challenge.That debt will need to be repaid and is likely to be a significant drain on finances. Cashflow is tight – and getting tighter with increased staff and materials costs – but who wants to miss out on the opportunities to come?
Vehicles for achieving new arrangements include company voluntary arrangements (CVAs) and the recently- available restructuring plans. Plans are not restricted to the likes of Virgin Active. Smaller businesses can also benefit from them and they can assist where there is an absence of consensus among the creditor body.They and CVAs can assist with managing leasehold and other ongoing commitments.
Time to pay agreements with HMRC can also relieve pressure.And key commercial partners – who might themselves face challenges – might be willing to extend payment terms, hoping themselves to benefit from increased demand.
All of these involve the admission of financial difficulty if not insolvency. But they are rescue or restructuring arrangements which are designed to assist in a return to profitability.
Taking further borrowing is also a possibility – if there is a willing lender. But take care, because increasing borrowing where there is no prospect of repaying it is a recipe for personal liability.
Whatever the situation and whatever the pressure and challenges, taking early advice is always beneficial. Happy Holidays!