'We now have the blocks to start rebuilding the sector'

By Sacha Lord, night-time economy adviser for Greater Manchester

- Last updated on GMT

Onus concern: Sacha Lord is worried about the additional responsibilities pubs will face upon reopening
Onus concern: Sacha Lord is worried about the additional responsibilities pubs will face upon reopening

Related tags: Alcoholic beverage, Public house, Coronavirus

Like most across the sector, I was glad to finally receive the reopening guidelines this week.

By the very nature of our industry, we simply wouldn't have been able to wait any longer to get clarity.

I’ve personally spoken to hundreds of operators who are desperate to open their doors and who can now start planning rotas, opening booking systems and restocking fridges. The excitement in the sector is palpable, and I’m pleased to see managers are now able to breathe a sigh of relief.

I was also pleased that, after much discussion, the two-metre spacing restrictions were relaxed.

The requirements would have devastated the sector and put thousands of operators out of business, so the relaxation has been welcomed. A 'one-metre plus' regulation will enable more customers to enter premises, more sales to be made and ultimately more venues to stay open.

There’s obviously some confusion and we need more clarity with regards to the wearing of face masks, but it’s a good start and injects some hope into a sector that has been damaged, for some irreversibly, during the crisis.

I am concerned about the onus on the operator on ensuring social distancing remains in place, especially when customers have been drinking, so I’ll be interested to hear how this will be policed and the implications involved for the venue.

Customer behaviour

As friends and family begin to bunch together after a few pints, it will be incredibly difficult to implement, so I want to ensure that while operators should act in good faith in terms of adhering to guidelines and doing all they can, they aren't penalised for customer behaviour, which is out of their control.

I was glad to hear yesterday (Thursday 25 June) the Government has reviewed licensing and permissions to enable outdoor applications to be approved faster.

All boroughs of Greater Manchester have been introducing such measures over the past month to aid with social distancing, and prepare for the reopening.

We have pedestrianised multiple streets, including the city centre and in Altrincham, to help operators serve food and drink outside, and our city-region alone employs over 414,000 staff and we will do all we can to support it, and those employed, through this crisis.

The outdoor allowances will help operators serve more while maintaining social distancing, but I would also like to encourage operators to work together and share bookings if they are unable to fulfil them themselves.

We want the customers to always enjoy their evenings, but as we have done throughout this crisis, we must ensure we continue to work together and support all operators – no matter how large or small.

I’m also keen to keep track of the developments around contact tracing. Licensed premises are already adept to ID checks and keeping details on booking systems so while the measure sounds easy enough to implement, we do need to ensure there is a standard process for this across the sector.

Data concerns

There are some concerns for privacy and data protection which need to be addressed, and we need further clarity on the timescales that the contact information should be kept for, and how they are stored. We can’t have addresses on sheets of paper at the front door, or photographs of ID documents taken on phones, so I’ll be looking quickly into how this can be implemented safely for all concerned.

Our operators will be overwhelmed with keeping their businesses up and running and are not trained in contact tracing, so we need procedures and agreements finalised prior to 4 July on how businesses can work quickly and effectively with NHS contact tracers, as well as the implications and legalities for the business itself should a customer fall unwell.

There are reports that a venue would need to close for two weeks should a case of Covid-19 come through the venue, which raises questions itself on how operators can protect themselves from this worst case scenario.

However, while I'm pleased for the hospitality sector as a whole, I'm still very concerned about live music venues and nightclubs which have not been given the green light.

We have an incredibly important live music scene in the UK, and in Manchester in particular, and the current measures do little to protect this small but critical industry. We need more information on when these specific venues are likely to be allowed to reopen so preparations can be made, and we must ensure that the financial aid continues past current deadlines to give them the same opportunities to recover as the rest of the sector.

The last three months have been the toughest our industry has ever faced, and there will continue to be hard times ahead – especially in the north west where our R-rate is higher than other regions.

But the safety of staff and customers is paramount and we know that our sector will be the first to close if the rate increases  We need to ensure we are doing our bit to prevent that scenario and adjust to these new ways of operating. I’m confident that by pulling together and supporting those who are still unable to reopen, that we now have the blocks to start rebuilding the sector and helping it back onto its feet.

Related topics: Health & safety

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