Boris Johnson urged to save pubs from 'bleakest of winters'

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Call for action: 'we need additional and urgent support in order to survive this bleakest of winters,' a letter from pub companies to the Prime Minister says
Call for action: 'we need additional and urgent support in order to survive this bleakest of winters,' a letter from pub companies to the Prime Minister says

Related tags: Coronavirus, Legislation, Health and safety, Bbpa, ukhospitality, Jobs

The Prime Minister has been pressed to issue sector-specific support for pubs, in a letter signed by more than 100 hospitality businesses.

The letter asks Boris Johnson to commit to reviewing the appropriateness of measures imposed on the sector at least every three weeks.

It was organised by trade associations the British Beer & Pub Association, UKHospitality and the British Institute of Innkeeping, and signed by pub companies including Greene King, Admiral Taverns and JD Wetherspoon.

Many jobs and businesses hang in the balance as a “bleak winter” of reduced trade and higher operating costs approaches. 

The letter states: “We are not opposed to restrictions that can tackle the spread of the virus but a pragmatic and flexible approach has to be adopted by both central and local Government.

Targeted support

“The 10pm curfew should be removed if demonstrably not working as intended or adjusted to provide for gradual dispersal and avoid the unintended consequences for the wider sector including cultural activities now impacted.”

The letter adds: “Sector-specific restrictions deserve sector-specific support.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s package of employment support “does not go nearly far enough for our imperilled sector,”​ the signatories agreed. 

They have said employer contributions to the Job Support Scheme should be removed for the hospitality sector and grants given to businesses placed under future restrictions.

The letter echoed sector calls for the VAT cut and business rates holiday to be extended through 2021 and beer duty slashed.

The letter in full:

Dear Prime Minister

We write to you today as a collective of businesses from across the hospitality sector, from multinational operators to representatives of individual sites, as the realities of last week’s announcement now become clear. We are committed to working with the Government in the fight to keep Covid-19 under control and demonstrating our businesses are safe places for customers to visit. Quite simply, though, we need additional and urgent support in order to survive this bleakest of winters. Businesses are at risk of failure and hundreds of thousands of viable jobs will be lost without Government action.

Hospitality is a major driver of economic activity in the UK, supporting more than three million jobs during 2019 and tens of thousands of small, medium and large businesses in every corner of the country. They are integral to Britain’s tourism offer. Our sector has been hit incredibly hard by the pandemic and many businesses have already sadly closed forever, with the remainder fighting for survival. For tens of thousands of small pub business operators, these are their homes as well as their livelihoods. Even prior to this week, one half of hospitality businesses did not believe they would survive beyond the middle of next year. Many have not even yet had the chance to reopen, such as nightclubs and the events sector.

The latest restrictions have made this fight to survive even harder. Town and city centre businesses – reopened as people were urged to return to offices – will now be shut down. Across the country, the 10pm curfew has removed key trading hours for all of us vital to our survival, removing whole shifts from food-led businesses. It has created pinch points for public transport and large groups congregating elsewhere in a manner likely to increase Covid-related health risks.    

The sector has invested tens of millions of pounds in protective equipment for staff, perspex shields, enhanced cleaning regimes as well as new technology solutions to create entirely safe Covid-secure environments, yet trade is already being decimated as more consumers stay away while costs continue to rise. On top of this, we are experiencing further restrictions for already Covid-secure venues, which dismays operators as yet more restrictions are applied to their businesses. We are not opposed to restrictions that can tackle the spread of the virus but a pragmatic and flexible approach has to be adopted by both central and local Government. A commitment must be made to review the appropriateness of all these measures at least every three weeks. The 10pm curfew should be removed if demonstrably not working as intended or adjusted to provide for gradual dispersal and avoid the unintended consequences for the wider sector including cultural activities now impacted.

If we are to have businesses to rebuild once the winter months are over that will lead the economic and employment recovery, we now need urgent Government support. Sector-specific restrictions deserve sector-specific support. However, the package announced by the Chancellor does not go nearly far enough for our imperilled sector. The Job Support Scheme, as it stands, regrettably does not provide us with the necessary tools to stave off hundreds of thousands of redundancies of otherwise viable jobs that are now taking place on an unprecedented scale. The simple truth is that without an immediate review of the support on offer to pubs, restaurants and wider hospitality businesses, many will be lost for years to come. The damage to communities will be immeasurable, long-term, and ultimately extremely costly for Government.

In the immediate term, the employer contributions need to be removed for the hospitality sector and a new package of grant funding for businesses that face restrictions brought forward. To plan for a future beyond the winter, the VAT cut and business rates holiday must also be extended through 2021 and beer duty cut.

We would ask you to intervene as a matter of urgency and as a first step convene a meeting of sector leaders to help draw up a support package that will prevent the devastating damage that is drawing ever closer.

Yours sincerely

What’s more, the Independent Family Brewers of Britain (IFBB), which represents 29 family-owned breweries, wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to stop “targeting pubs”.

Draconian rules

The letter argues there is little evidence to justify a focus on pubs and points to coronavirus transmission data suggesting pubs do not make up a significant proportion of cases.

“The current Government policy to escalate rapidly draconian new rules on pubs is the wrong tool for the wrong job,” it reads.

Richard Bailey, IFBB chairman, also called on the Government to rethink the national curfew, masks, and local restrictions on gathering multiple households in a pub.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast​ this morning (30 September), Business Secretary Alok Sharma said the Government had provided “a lot of specific support” for pubs over the past few months.

He added: “I completely understand they have concerns about a restriction at 10pm but actually they are able to operate through large parts of the evening.”

Related topics: Legislation

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