Rail strikes have cost Britain’s bars, pubs, hotels and restaurants £1.5bn in lost business in December alone, according to the trade body representing the sector.
Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said a wave of cancellations of dinners and parties in the fortnight leading up to Christmas, along with high energy bills and the wider cost of living, formed a “perfect storm” that would “undoubtedly” cause more business failures in the next three months.
There have already been about 2,500 closures of hospitality premises in the past three months, she added.
The rail strikes are part of a broader wave of industrial action across the UK involving nurses, ambulance workers, Border Force officials and other, mostly public sector, employees who are protesting below-inflation pay offers.
Rail strikes took place on eight separate days this month, starting on December 13. There was also disruption to services in the aftermath of strike days.
More walkouts are planned for four days next week by the RMT rail union, which first started its industrial action in June. There will also be a separate one-day rail strike by members of the Aslef union.
Nicholls said footfall in parts of central London was down by almost half on some strike days this month.
“The hit in December was more significant than we were anticipating in terms of a slowdown in consumer footfall on the high street during that whole week,” she told the BBC’s Today programme. “We saw cancellation rates as high as 50 to 60 per cent in the centre of London, and 20 to 30 per cent around the rest of the country directly attributable to those strike days.”
Footfall data for towns and city centres showed sales on strike days across the UK were down 27 per cent, she said, while in central London and the City they had fallen 46 per cent.
Pubs and restaurants usually depend on busy Decembers to see them through the quiet months of January and February, Nicholls pointed out. She called on ministers to provide clarity over further help with energy bills for businesses.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is finalising a new package of support for companies with their energy costs but this will be substantially less generous than the government’s current package, which comes to an end at the start of April.
Ministers have claimed that unions will have to drop their claims for higher pay as they run down their strike funds by the spring, according to a report in the Times.
But union officials insist they have the financial firepower to support their members. The Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents striking Border Force officials, hopes to increase its strike fund with a £5 monthly levy on its members.
On Friday road traffic officers and control room staff working for National Highways in the south-west and West Midlands walked off the job, the latest in a series of regional strikes by members of the PCS.
The union said the action was likely to affect road warning signals and could slow the reopening of major roads after traffic accidents.