Curfew measures will not curb virus, say pubco bosses

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Pointless measure: pubco CEOs have slammed the Government's approach to tackling a second wave of coronavirus by targeting pubs
Pointless measure: pubco CEOs have slammed the Government's approach to tackling a second wave of coronavirus by targeting pubs

Related tags: Coronavirus, Health and safety, Legislation, Jd wetherspoon, Tim martin, Star pubs & bars, Oakman inns, Peter Borg-Neal

Chief executives have called the Government’s pub curfew decision “pointless” and “unnecessary” in the fight to curb a second coronavirus wave.

What’s more, chief executives at the nation’s big pub estates – including Star Pubs & Bars, Fuller Smith & Turner – said the move would cause further economic damage to the sector.

Business leaders pointed out mandating pubs to close at 10pm may backfire in tackling the pandemic as it could lead to more unregulated social gatherings such as house parties.

Simon Emeny, chief executive at Fuller’s called pubs “the home of responsible socialising” and said his company had worked hard to implement safety measures across its pubs.

He said: “Our pubs are socially distanced, our cleaning regimes are superb and we have invested in digital methods to accurately collect data to help with Track and Trace. Our reward for this investment and cooperation is further unnecessary restrictions.

“Today (Tuesday 22 September), the Prime Minister has succeeded in taking people out of the regulated pub environment and encouraging them back to unregulated socialising at home. This will not help to contain the virus – instead the largest outcome will be substantial job losses, mainly among young people, across the hospitality sector.

“These measures, combined with the return of the work from home message that will further reduce our customer numbers, puts businesses across our sector at risk.”

Emeny is among those in the sector calling for more financial support for pubs including extensions to the furlough scheme, the VAT reduction and the business rates holiday.

Calls for more support

Lawson Mountstevens, Star Pubs & Bars managing director, called the news a “further blow” to the pub sector.

He added: “We will help our licensees to follow the new guidance but would urge the Government to provide further financial assistance to pubs as a matter of urgency. These latest restrictions will impact different pubs in different ways according to their location and style of operation. 

On the matter of rent concessions, Mountstevens said: “We have already funded a £25 million rent reduction package through to the end of October. We will continue to provide rent support to our pubs on an individual basis in line with the specific challenges they face.”

Peter Borg-Neal, chief executive at multiple operator Oakman Inns​, said he felt the curfew was “ a little pointless”.

He added: “The curfew is not going to stop people from socialising, you have got freshers’ week next week. People are just going to leave at 10pm and gather in small bedsits and parties.

“I don't see much public health benefit but I do see lots of economic damage."

The executive said he was “irritated by the continual lie” that hospitality venues were to blame for rising infection rates.

He added: “A hospitality place following the protocol shouldn't have any transmissions. We haven't. We reckon we have had 1.5m unique customer visits since opening and nobody has caught Covid in an Oakman inn.

"They're [the Government] trying to deflate attention from their incompetence and failure around care homes and trying to blame hospitality instead. It's a political game."

“In Ireland, the pubs have never reopened. They have got the same shaped second wave as us. So, what? Is the coronavirus in Ireland teetotal or something?”

The Morning Advertiser​ had a look at the number of coronavirus cases per week in the time since pubs reopened on 4 July.

Out of control

What’s more, JD Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin told the Press Association news agency he felt the Government was “out of touch and out of control”.

“Most people think of a pub, a vision from their youth, people dancing, loud music and raucous behaviour.

“Most pubs are not like that and no pub when operating social distancing is like that. Why have they done it?

“The only thing I can think of is they must have the stats for pubs, very low figures for transmissions, so the reason they have done is it’s for PR reasons. They want to be seen to be doing something.

“A curfew is a bad idea because at the moment there’s relatively low level of transmissions in pubs.”

Virus data

Greene King chief executive, Nick Mackenzie said fewer than 1% of its 1,700 managed pubs had been contacted by NHS Test & Trace since reopening in July, which "demonstrates pubs are not disproportionately spreading cases".

Mackenzie added: “Pubs are just starting to get back on their feet after lockdown and these new restrictions are a significant setback. We urgently need the government to extend the furlough scheme for hospitality venues and confirm what additional support it will provide to protect jobs and the future of pubs.

“Removing a key trading period and further damaging customer confidence looks set to cost us several million pounds per week on top of already reduced customer numbers in our pubs to maintain social distancing.

He called on the Government to avoid further job losses after the Prime Minister said it was likely the restrictions announced could continue for six months. 

Marston's chief executive Ralph Findlay told The Morning Advertiser ​his data also did not suggest pubs were fuelling rising cases.

He said: "The biggest issue for me is this creeping sense that pubs are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. It's that view I am really worried about. I think we are part of solution.

"In many ways, we are a regulated environment where we try and make things happen according to the advice we are given by the Government. That's not the case in parks and people's houses."

"What is it that is driving infections?"

Consumer confidence

Regional operator Joe Cussens, who runs Bath Pub Company, said he felt he would see an indirect impact of the measures from a hit to consumer confidence.

He said: “When they talk about the pub industry, that covers a multitude of different types of op from those which are community wet-led places or which have most of their trade towards the evening, others which are all day trading, more food. It’s going to hurt different people in different ways.

“I suspect it won't be a massive jolt to us in itself, what it might do is make more people generally nervous about going out.”

He was frustrated with “wishful thinking” from the Prime Minister and added: “What we want from the Government is competency and clear messaging. I don't think we are getting that enough.”

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