Almost 200 pubs in Leicester were ordered to halt reopening plans this week after a surge in coronavirus cases meant the city had to re-introduce strict measures and pause plans to ‘unlock’.
Publicans in the city are unable to reopen their premises when their peers do on Saturday 4 July, with the local lockdown expected to last at least two weeks.
Sam Hagger, director of SSOOSH Inns Limited which operates the four-site strong Beautiful Pubs Collective in Leicester, told The Morning Advertiser (MA) that safety was the most important factor at hand - just under 950 positive Covid-19 cases were recorded between 11-24 June in Leicester.
Hagger said: “As for most hospitality operators in Leicester, the local lockdown is absolute disaster."
The four pubs would not have been ready to open on 4 July given the pub group’s cautious approach in waiting for the publication of the Government’s guideline first but was looking at relaunching early in the month.
Hagger added: “When the news broke about the possibility of the localised lockdown we had literally just begun the training and un-furloughing processes for more than half of our pub teams.
“Despite fantastic support from Everards of Leicestershire and brand owners, as each week passes by huge amounts of stock continues to be written off.
“We completely support the decision to enforce this lockdown and protect the lives in local communities, it's just extremely challenging.”
Brewery Everards has “gone above and beyond” with supporting the pubs on rent, Hagger said, but more financial support is needed for pubs to weather this trying time.
He added: “Only two of our pubs were applicable for the Government’s [coronavirus Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund] scheme.
“Now is the time to increase the [rateable value] threshold to 100k, backdating support to businesses that were initially missed and look to how further funds can be made available to support businesses that encounter a second localised lockdown.”
There have been calls on the Government to extend its grant fund support for pubs, as eligibility for a £25,000 grant is currently capped at £51,000 rateable value.
It is the first area to be placed into a ‘local lockdown’ and trade bodies including the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) have said the sectors’ eyes are on the East Midlands’ city for signs on what to expect in other areas over the coming months.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA said: “The situation in Leicester will be of huge concern to pubs across the country and we need the Government to explain exactly what the conditions are for these local lockdowns and how their powers apply.”
Hagger’s advice to publicans in areas where a considerable rise in cases has been identified and there is a chance pubs could be asked to close was this: “Continue to keep your overheads as low as possible and keep your teams focused on your food and drink stock holding. Order little, more often and only accept good dates on cask ale, keeping your exposure to a minimum.”