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PM tells pubs to close

By Nikkie Thatcher

- Last updated on GMT

Government advice: Boris Johnson has ordered the closure of pubs to the public after tonight (Friday 20 March)
Government advice: Boris Johnson has ordered the closure of pubs to the public after tonight (Friday 20 March)

Related tags: Coronavirus

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has told pubs, cafés, bars and restaurants to close tonight (20 March) while the Chancellor announced a new Government grant that will cover 80% of employees’ wages.

Johnson’s announcement at a press conference today (Friday 20 March) followed him calling on the public to avoid visiting pubs​ earlier this week (Tuesday 17 March).

He said: “Following agreement between all four nations of the UK, we are collectively telling cafés, pubs, bars and restaurants to close tonight, as they reasonably can and not open tomorrow but, they can continue to provide take-out services.

“We are also telling nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres to close on the same timescale.”

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak also announced a package of measures aimed to help businesses struggling amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

He said: “The economic intervention that I am announcing today (20 March) is unprecedented in the history of the British state. I know people are worried about losing their jobs, about not being able to pay the rent or mortgage, about not having enough set by for food and bills.

“The first part of our plan is to protect people’s jobs. We are setting up a new coronavirus job retention scheme. Any employer in the country, small or large, charitable or non-profit will be eligible for the scheme.

“Employers will be able to contact HMRC for a grant to cover most of the wages of people who are not working but are furloughed and kept on pay roll rather than being laid off.

“Government grants will cover 80% of the salary of retained workers up to a total of £2,500 a month, that’s just above the median income. Of course, employers can top up salaries further if they choose to.

“That means workers in any part of the UK can retain their job even if their employer cannot afford to pay them and be paid at least 80% of their salary. The coronavirus job retention scheme will cover the cost of wages backdated to 1 March and will be open initially for at least three months and I will extend the scheme for longer if necessary.”

No limit

He went on to say how there will be no limit on the amount of funding available for this scheme and the Government will pay grants to support as many jobs as necessary.

Sunak added: “We have never had a scheme in our country, like this before and we are having to build our systems from scratch.

“I can assure you HMRC is working night and day to get this scheme up and running, and we expect the first grants to be paid within weeks and we are aiming to get it done before the end of April.

“But I know many businesses are hurting now. I have already taken extraordinary measures to make cash available to businesses through loans, grants and guarantees.”

He added how the loan scheme announced earlier this week (17 March) will be interest-free for a longer period that originally announced.

Further measures

Sunak said: “I can announce today that the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme will not be interest-free as previously planned for six months – it will now be interest-free for 12 months.

“Those loans will now be available starting Monday, I will announce further measures next week to ensure larger and medium-sized businesses can also access credit they need.”

To free up more cash flow, the Chancellor also said the next quarter of VAT payments will be postponed.

He added: “I am also announcing today, further cash flow support through the tax system. To help businesses pay people and keep them in work, I am deferring the next quarter of VAT payments.

“That means no business will pay any VAT until end of June and you will have until the end of the financial year to repay those bills.”

Beer duty deferral needed

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) national chairman Nik Antona said while the trade will be “devastated” by the decision to force closure, it is the type of “decisive leadership” that has been called for.

He added: “Pubs and the wider hospitality industry now have clear instruction that closing their doors is the right thing to do and the confidence the Government will support their staff and their business.

“This decision will ensure they can emerge from this crisis in the best position to rebuild their businesses and continue to offer their vital community service to their customers.

“We’re concerned that there seemed to be no mention of the British independent brewing industry in the statements — this is a vital industry that needs to be protected and supported if they are to continue to contribute so much to their local and the national economies. The Government needs to take further measures to support and protect this important industry by also deferring beer duty. 

“We welcome the news that pubs and breweries offering takeaway services will be allowed to remain open and will be promoting these innovative initiatives across the country on CAMRA’s #pullingtogether platform.

“We’d like the Government to immediately relax licensing laws to make it easier for pubs to offer takeaway drinks as well as food. We’d encourage any beer-lover or pubgoer to show their support for the beer and pubs industry by choosing takeaway services from their local pub wherever possible.”

Package offers hope

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls welcomed the new measures, hailing them as a “generous package” that will support staff and gives hope to those who have been laid off.

She said: “This may have saved up to 1m jobs, but we need it as soon as possible to ensure we can continue to trade. 

“While VAT deferrals preserve some cash, we still face rent payments next week before the support is due to arrive. Banks and landlords need to do more to help us bridge the gap towards this generous Government support. Damage is being done now, so we need help now.”

Related topics: Health & safety, UnitedWeStand

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