Star Pubs & Bars managing director Lawson Mountstevens said: “If we’re going to open up at restricted trading levels, additional Government support is going to be needed. The move on the furlough scheme on first reading seems to look very positive, but I would argue additional grants and additional support will be needed.”
Star Pubs & Bars was one of the first of the big pubcos to reveal its plans on rent for tenants, offering discounts of at least 50% – and up to 90% – dependent on operators positions, which Mountstevens said was received well in the main by their licensees, despite criticism from campaigners.
“The important thing is the reaction from people who actually run our pubs – that’s a key point. They understand it, they’ve seen it as a coherent and eloquent response and the vast majority think it’s fair, equitable and transparent.
“The Government was very clear that part of the grant money was for rent, and the purpose of that was to flow through the eco-system to support all businesses through this crisis. When you look at it, our averages are that we’re taking 15 to 20% of the grant income [for rent].”
However, the pubco came under fire for the follow-up communication on the decision, which saw criticism from operators for the legal nature and challenging time-frames of the letters being sent out.
Mountstevens admitted there had been mistakes: “It’s been frustrating – we wanted to act professionally. We wanted to confirm things formally. These are significant commercial concessions and we felt that people wanted to have [them] locked down, agreed and committed to in a formal and legal way.
“The context of this is that we were working in a crisis. We were working at pace. Yes, the letters were very legal. And yes, did we miss a deadline? And were they delayed in coming out? Absolutely. They were. There’s no doubt about that. And some of the dates were too tight.
“The minute we realised that we issued a formal letter of apology restating that was a simple communication and, to be honest, we’ve parked that now and moved on.”
He said work was now focusing on helping operators get ready to restart.
Mountstevens added: “We’re looking at stock repatriation – that’s going to be a huge job, getting the supply chain going and removing and replenishing stocks.
“We’ve been very clear we’re going to replace old for new stock, but no charge to any of our pubs up and down the country.”
That said, he admits it’s going to be a real challenge for pubs opening with any degree of social distancing: “It’s a contradiction in terms as to what makes the great British pub, isn’t it?
“That said, you know, we’re going to have to recognise that that is a reality. For certain outlets, it won’t work, they’re too small or there’s just too many other physical restrictions to make it work.”
He said clarity was needed on the way forward to allow them to understand how things could work.
“Our Dutch business did some modelling and these are in square boxes, not like our great historic pubs [where two metres would] reduce the capacity by about 60-odd percent. But it’s something we’ll work with. We need to understand it.”
But he said pubs needed to remain positive: “You know, the great British pub has been through some bumps in the road before and it will be here long into the future. There’s one thing that being in lockdown has made everyone realise, it’s just how brilliant pubs are and how much we missed them.
“There’s a great opportunity there for us to capitalise on that into the future. But we recognise that, you know, we’re going to have to adapt.”
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