No school, no McDonald’s, no movies. Despite the gloomy mood in Britain after Queen Elizabeth II’s death, the decisions to shut down much of the economy on the day of her funeral have sparked criticism, online ridicule and, in some cases, widespread confusion.
The British government announced last weekend that Monday will be a national holiday to “enable individuals, businesses and other organizations to pay their respects” to the Queen. Schools will be closed, but businesses had to decide whether or not to remain open – albeit with employers “encouraged to respond sensitively” to requests from their staff to be released from work.
The guidance presented companies such as shops, restaurants, pubs and hotels with a dilemma. If they closed to give employees a day off, they risked accusations of denying basic services to the public. Staying open, however, would require staff – made even more difficult by the expectation that workers wouldn’t have to be paid at a dock if they wanted to mourn or pay their respects to the Queen.
Some companies struggled with the decision, outraging customers and facing a wave of negative publicity. Center Parcs UK Group Ltd., which operates five resorts in the UK, said it would close on Monday, meaning families will have to cut their breaks and either travel home or find another hotel.
After a public response, Center Parcs decided to allow visitors to stay but said they should stay in their rooms or lodges – sparking a new outcry, until it became clear that customers would be able to walk around the parks and holiday villages. The facilities will be closed.
“You have to strike a balance between staff needs, customer needs and public perception,” said Simon Neville, director of media strategy at communications firm SEC Newgate. After the Queen’s death, Neville says businesses were advised to “stop, breathe, calm down and think. And it seems Center Parcs didn’t think about this.”
Indeed, some companies opted for a distinctly different and much slower approach. Pub chain JD Wetherspoon Plc waited until Thursday morning, nearly a week after the Queen’s death, to announce its decision to keep pubs open in central London and transport hubs, but to keep other branches closed until the end of the funeral, expected to be around 1 p.m.
Its rival, Greene King Ltd., had already said pubs with TVs would open so people could watch the funeral, while pubs without screens would open after that. “Our pubs are a place where communities come together,” the statement said.
While many pubs remain open, most shops have decided to close, except for branches in central London, where large crowds are expected. Many people gathering in the capital will be from other parts of Britain, raising doubts as to whether the transport infrastructure can handle it. London authorities have advised businesses to remain open, especially restaurants and bars.
The magnitude of the lockdown across the country is significant, with economists expecting a stronger blow to gross domestic product than usual.
“Additional holidays in the past tended to cut GDP growth in that month by half to one percentage point,” said Paul Dales of Capital Economics. “Because this is an unusual one with perhaps more events and activities being canceled or postponed, it could be toward the top of that range.”
The Bank of England had already forecast a recession in the UK to start in the last quarter of the year.
McDonald’s will close all its branches until at least 5 p.m., while cinema chain Vue said screens would show the funeral on Monday, but no movies. Local doctors’ offices will be closed and many hospital appointments postponed, leading to complaints from patients. British Cycling advised people not to cycle during the hours of the funeral before tacking on after the guidance was mocked on social media.
The British public seems unimpressed with the way businesses and government organizations have handled the situation. More than half think it’s wrong to delay non-essential medical procedures, according to a survey by pollster YouGov, while less than a third agree with the decision. Only 13% say it is correct for people to leave their pre-booked accommodation, as originally suggested by Center Parcs.
In addition, 58% of respondents agreed with the view that corporate condolence statements after the Queen’s death were purely intended to maintain a positive corporate image, while only 28% considered them sincere.
“It’s about responding in a way that fits your brand values, your company, and your industry,” said George Pascoe-Watson, president of PR consultancy Portland. “Whatever the decision, there will be people who disagree with it.”