EATING out will need to feel safe if the Government’s bid to help restaurants is to work, an expert has said, as Oxford eateries welcome the plans.

On Wednesday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced a raft a measures in his summer statement which are aimed at keeping people in work, making sure restaurants stay afloat and encouraging people to buy homes.

The different aspect of the plans have been welcomed by estate agents, restaurant owners and even education experts here in Oxfordshire.

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But a retail expert based in the county, Keith Slater, said success of the plans, which include vouchers to give diners 50 per cent off meals out at restaurants through August, would depend on how safe people felt going out.

Oxford East Labour MP Anneliese Dodds, who is also the Shadow Chancellor, has raised concerns about the next steps the Government is taking after ending the furlough scheme.

Restaurants and cafes

A series of measures have been launched to help retailers stay afloat, with the most eye-catching being the Government’s ‘eat out to help out’ scheme.

Throughout August, anyone eating at a restaurant between Monday and Wednesday will be given a 50 per cent discount – up to £10 – on any meal.

There will also be a drastic cut to VAT, the tax added to the prices of most things sold in shops, for hospitality and tourism-related goods.

The rate currently stands at 20 per cent of the value of an item added on to it, but will now be reduced to five per cent in a bid to get shoppers spending more.

Oxfordshire-based retail expert Keith Slater said: “People are going to feel that it does not cost them as much to go out to eat.

“But the question is: are they going to feel comfortable to go out? Are they going to feel safe?

“It is much more important that they feel safe because that will add to the feeling they are having a nice time.”

He explained that shoppers in recent years have begun to visit town and city centres for the ‘experience’ of a day out, but added that as shops reopened in June, visits were reduced to only the most needed purchases.

In his own area, Burford in West Oxfordshire, Mr Slater said the number of shoppers had doubled on the streets since cafes and restaurants had been allowed to reopen.

Restaurateurs have welcomed the plans as a welcome boost for takings on weeknights.

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Mohammed Halilu, right, at African Heat

Mohammed Halilu, the managing director of recently opened Cowley Road restaurant African Heat, said that weeknights were currently the most difficult trading days, while weekends were still busy.

Mr Halilu added: “People should not feel scared to go out and enjoy themselves. A 50 per cent discount is a massive amount of difference: anything to help during the week is good for us.”

Yola Drage Brunelli, co-owner of La Cucina Italian restaurant on St Clements agreed.

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Yola Drage Brunelli, left, and colleagues. Picture: Ed Nix

She said: “I am more interested in the drop in VAT: that is going to help us a great deal: people will feel encouraged to buy by that.”

She added: “Slowly but surely we hope people will venture out, and every little bit of support from government helps.”

House buying

The chancellor also announced plans to cut stamp duty, a tax which people have to pay when they buy a house.

The threshold for paying the tax now applies when someone buys a home worth £500,000 or more; The previous threshold was £125,000.

Chris Dixey, the director of Oxford estate agent Breckon and Breckon, said the move could have huge knock on effects for the local economy.

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Chris Dixey of Breckon and Breckon

Mr Dixey said: “Stamp duty reducing is great news for people moving – even if you are buying a high-priced house, anything you pay below £500,000 will not be taxed.

“If you think what that means to the local economy it lets you continue with buying a house at the same time as having cash for something else like a new kitchen, or a holiday.”

Mr Dixey added that as estate agents had gone back to work, Oxfordshire’s removal companies, builders and solicitors had also seen a rise in custom, and they would likely feel the benefits of the stamp duty change too.

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Young people and jobs

On jobs, Mr Sunak announced the ‘next step’ of the economic recovery from Covid-19 would be to bring an end to the furlough scheme, but replace it with a £1,000 payment to businesses for every employee they keep on the books.

He also focussed spending on getting young people into their first jobs out of school or college, with a £2bn fund aimed at this.

As part of the measures, companies will be given £2,000 for every apprentice they employ over the next year.

Education consultant and county councillor John Howson said the scheme would be of most help to school leavers in Oxford’s deprived areas.

But he also said: “There are a number of young graduates of which teachers are the most obvious who the scheme does not provide much help for.

“The risk is we lost the skills they have already acquired through their university degrees.

“I would like to see the next government package look at providing a scheme for these people,” he added.

Political reaction

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Anneliese Dodds. Picture:

Oxford East MP Anneliese Dodds welcomed many of the measures, but said the Government is taking a ‘one-size fits all’ approach in its incentive scheme to persuade employers to keep on furloughed staff beyond October.

She told Radio 4’s Today programme: “We all know that some sectors are being much more strongly impacted than others, the Chancellor’s continuing with that one-sized fits all approach, we would urge him to look again at this, we have been continuously.”

Ms Dodds said there were still questions about what support businesses which had not yet been allowed to reopen would receive.

These include beauticians, tattoo parlours, gyms and leisure centres.

READ the latest on gyms, leisure centres and others reopening here