When the increase of coronavirus cases and additional strain on the NHS resulted in the second government-imposed national lockdown, many West Country businesses were left wondering how the restrictions would affect their operations. Despite this, most have been compliant with lockdown terms but that hasn’t been the case across the board.
Carpetright claimed exemption to lockdown rules
A Somerset branch of Carpetright was actively forced to close after it decided not to obey lockdown requirements, which stated that all non-essential retail and hospitality business should shut until 2nd December 2020. Despite being informed by North Somerset Council that the store did not meet the criteria classifying the business as essential, the Weston-super-Mare branch on the Flowerdown Retail Park remained open after lockdown was implemented on 5th November last year.
Carpetright bosses claimed that it should be subject to the exemption given to building merchants and hardware stores, however, the council did not agree and asked it to close. Although carpet retailers were permitted to continue their click and collect operation alongside completing all previously scheduled carpet fittings, they were not allowed to remain fully open. The refusal to close voluntarily resulted in the council serving the store with a prohibition notice.
Response from independent retailers
Many high street chains which largely sell non-essential goods have continued to trade during lockdown, which has resulted in thousands of smaller independent retailers urging the government to take action and level the playing field.
Bira is a trade organisation which represents 3,000 independent retailers and its chief executive, Andrew Goodacre, has stated that members are furious that non-essential retailers continued to trade whilst smaller businesses were adhering to the rules. While independent retailers have accepted the rules of lockdown, they do not see why they should accept the fact that the rules don’t appear to apply to their larger competitors, such as homeware stores that have a small food or hardware section.
In response to criticism, The Range stated that it is deemed an essential retailer because ‘as a value retailer, we understand that a lot of our customers rely on us to provide essential items like groceries, pet care products, non-prescription medicines, toiletries and cleaning items, at the low prices that they need right now.’ Similarly, Ryman owner Theo Paphitis, noted that the stationery retailer was continuing to trade as it is increasing its delivery and financial sector turnover due to its DHL parcels business, Post Offices and Western Union.
Official response to Carpetright bosses
Councillor Mike Bell, who is an executive member of North Somerset Council and is responsible for ensuring business enforcement operates smoothly, has said that “there is no excuse for ignoring the rules, and we will take action against any business that believes lockdown does not apply.”
Cllr Bell went on to emphasise that everyone is in this together and, as such, both residents and businesses are required to adhere to the rules. He also emphasised the hard work of enforcement officers who have “voluntarily worked late into the evenings to interpret complex government guidelines” and offer accurate support and advice to all businesses in Somerset.
Bosses of the Somerset Carpetright store at the centre of this story refused requests to comment.