We now know that the government has decided to remove capacity restrictions for weddings in England from 21 June. However, restrictions such as social distancing and face coverings remain in place. So, will this relaxation of capacity limits mean the beginning of recovery for the weddings sector?
If we look at the numbers, we can see that the Covid-19 pandemic has crippled wedding businesses. In 2019, the sector generated £14.7bn, held over 250,000 weddings and employed some 400,000 people. But the problems caused by lockdown are already documented: it is estimated that, as a result of Covid-19, the sector has already lost £7bn in 2020 and these losses continue to mount.
Government measures to combat the spread of infection and reduce hospitalisations and deaths has meant that the wedding events industry has been knocked for six and with very little business support. Despite the furlough scheme, which has been a lifesaver for many businesses, the support that should have been targeted to wedding businesses, such as the Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG), worth £1,6bn to those businesses that do not pay business rates, has simply not been there. We have estimated that there will be an underspend under the ARG of £210m to 30 June.
Fortunately, the government has listened to us by extending the deadline for the disbursement of grants until 30 July which, we hope, will mean that all local councils will be able to tap into the additional £425m on offer. We will continue to push this hard, lobby local authorities to reopen their ARG application windows and, this time, target the grant awards to businesses that really need support.
So by removing capacity limits, does this mean that the weddings sector is saved? The simple answer is no. I would suggest that too much damage has already been done to a whole myriad of small and micro businesses that interact in the wedding supply chain. Wedding venues, florists, caterers, marquee hire companies, wedding car companies, wedding photographers, DJs and so on have all been severely affected with a number no longer able to trade.
And lifting capacity restrictions for the sector should not be seen as the panacea many think. Wedding organisers will still need to meet the ongoing restrictions relating to social distancing and face coverings to name just two. Risk assessments will be crucial to reopen and businesses will still need to meet the Covid-19 secure guidelines.
But it is a start, the beginning of the end as weddings, that have been postponed on countless occasions, will finally be able to happen and the happy couple might finally share a life of wedded bliss.