In its latest attempt to stem the pandemic tide, the Government unveiled three new levels of lockdown measures across England on 12 October after the number of Covid-19 cases quadrupled in the three weeks prior with more people hospitalised than when the Government enforced lockdown in March.
Alongside the closure of wet-led pubs, tier three, “very high”, restrictions mean that social mixing is banned both indoors and outdoors with residents told to avoid all non-essential travel and remain in their locality with schools and places of worship remaining open.
Hard-hit areas facing second tier, “high”, restrictions will see venues stay open subject to the 10pm curfew, a ban on mixing between households indoors and the “rule of six” governing outdoor gatherings.
First tier, “medium”, measures – the baseline restrictions in place across England including the 10pm curfew and “rule of six” – will apply to areas with the lowest rates of infection.
Figures from real estate adviser Altus Group on 21 October revealed that some 43.69% of all pubs in England were currently under “high” or “very high” restrictions including closures.
The Group counted in the region of 4,000 pubs in the "very high" tier with 1,173 in the Liverpool City Region, 1,809 in Greater Manchester and 1,127 in Lancashire, while 12,469 were classed as "high" risk.
However, with additions over the last couple of days this is likely to have increased further still.
Despite the ever-changing on-trade landscape, The Morning Advertiser (MA) attempted to gauge which pub companies were most affected by the introduction of local measures after the first full week of restricted trading.
Early tier three restrictions
Initially, Birmingham-based Mitchells and Butlers (M&B) found itself with in the region of 40 businesses under the Government’s “very high” Covid alert measures after the Liverpool City Region and Lancashire became the inaugural occupants of tier three.
Of those sites, one-in-four were forced to temporarily close due to new restrictions.
“Our industry is operating in exceptionally challenging and uncertain circumstances,” an M&B spokesperson said of the new restrictions.
“While we have worked incredibly hard to makes sites Covid-19 secure and keep staff and customers safe, we are facing significant difficulties from the recently introduced 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants, new enforced closures and tapering Government support that doesn’t go far enough.
“With trading restrictions and uncertainty likely to continue for the foreseeable future, we strongly urge the Government to step up the level of support it is offering to an industry which continues to be singled out is taking the full brunt of restrictions.”
Additionally, the announcement that Greater Manchester would join the Liverpool City Region and Lancashire in tier three on 20 October meant that in the region of 150 pubs operating under Heineken’s pub arm, Star Pubs & Bars, were moved to the strictest possible Government measures, alongside a similar number of sites belonging to Suffolk-based Greene King.
What’s more, according to its most recent trading update, Wolverhampton-based brewer and pub operator Marston’s was forced to close 18 sites in Liverpool after the introduction of the three-tier system.
Impact of tier three in Greater Manchester
Manchester-based Joseph Holt brewery initially revealed that eight of its 125 businesses under tier three restrictions were able to remain open on account of serving “substantial meals” with one wet-led site forced to close.
However, the tightening of measures in Greater Manchester saw the majority of its venues come under the “very high” alert level.
What’s more, Stockport-based brewer and operator Robinsons currently operates 59 sites in tier one measures, 73 in tier two and 88 under tier three, while Daniel Thwaites has 154 sites in tier three – of which 93 were forced to close – alongside 36 sites in tier two and 31 sites in tier one.
A joint statement from senior figures at Joseph Holt, Robinsons and Blackburn-based Daniel Thwaites as well as Greater Manchester-based JW Lees and Hydes – which collectively operate close to 900 pubs across the north west – described the singling out of pubs for closure in tier three with inadequate support as a “national disgrace”.
“Since the start of July our 860 pubs, in Manchester and around the north west of England and north Wales, have had not one case where they have been contacted by Track and Trace as a result of linked virus cases in one of our pubs,” it explained.
“Our pubs have had between 8-10m visits since re-opening in July – we are aware informally of only 15-20 individuals who have been in touch with their pub in the days after visiting to say that they have contracted the virus. This equates to 0.25 people per 100,000 visits of pubgoers who might have or more likely did not contract the virus on a visit to a pub.
“Shutting our pubs would be a deliberate political act of wilful economic destruction, visited upon the North for no gain,” the statement continued.
“Our pubs have already been made Covid-secure and are safe and ready to play their part in their communities through the winter – Northerners should not agree that their economies, employment and communities are deliberately devastated by this Conservative government’s action."
‘Bitterly disappointing’ restrictions
Suffolk-based brewer and pub operator Greene King had close to 900 pubs under tier two at the time of writing, with 1,300 sites under tier one, while New River REIT’s pub arm Hawthorn Leisure explained that it’s site split was approximately 50% in tier one with a further 25% in each of tier two and tier three.
What’s more, while 54% of Punch pubs are in tier one, one-in-three of the nationwide operators’ sites currently are in tier two, with a further 7% in tier three.
“Since the reopening of our business in July, we have gone to great lengths to ensure our pubs remain a safe place to be,” Punch managing director Andy Spencer said.
“Working with our Publicans, we’ve adapted businesses to ensure full compliance with all Government guidelines regarding operating in a ‘Covid-safe’ setting, for the benefit of our teams, guests and communities.
“Whilst we agree that nothing is more important than protecting health, the latest restrictions are bitterly disappointing and put communities at arguably greater risk, due to the increased likelihood of gatherings now taking place in unregulated environments.
“We continue to work with our lobbying partners at the BBPA and UK Hospitality to challenge the disproportionate burden being placed on hospitality, whilst simultaneously working with our Publicans to support them as they implement these enhanced measures
“Our aim is to ensure that in the long term, we can all return to a more normal trading environment.”
Additionally, according to its latest figures, Star Pubs & Bars has in the region of 900 sites in tier two, and a further 950 in tier one.
Star Pubs & Bars’ managing director Lawson Mountstevens described the local lockdown announcements as a “real blow to the hospitality industry” and one that will have a huge impact not just on individual pubs but on the communities they serve.
“The disproportionate measures and inadequate financial support are a kick in the teeth for licensees who have invested money and time ensuring their pubs are Covid-19 safe,” he continued.
“The Government needs to step up and rethink curfews, for which there is no credible evidence they work. The Chancellor also needs to provide more comprehensive financial support if they don’t want to devastate the pub industry and local communities the length and breadth of the country."
Concern for restrictions
According to its latest figures, west-London based operator Fuller’s has 230 sites (95 managed and 135 tenanted) currently in tier one, with 162 of its pubs (119 managed and 43 tenanted) under tier two restrictions.
What’s more, Oxfordshire-based Brakspear has 118 pubs currently in tier one compared to 12 sites currently affected by tier two restrictions while brewer and operator Arkells has all of its Wiltshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire based pubs under tier one measures.
Kent-based Shepherd Neame has 63 sites operating in tier two in addition to 257 sites in tier one, while all bar one of Wadworth’s 175 pubs are in the lowest tier – however the brewer and pub operator still expressed concern at tier two measures prior to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement of further support for affected pubs.
As reported by The MA, Sunak outlined additional support measures for tier two pubs, including cash grants worth up to £2,100 for every month for "open but struggling" businesses.
“We are concerned for pubs in tier two with restrictions on who can visit a pub,” Wadworth CEO Chris Welham explained. “This is similar to when the PM guided the nation to not visit pubs on the 16 March but provided no support before a full lockdown was later announced.
“The lack of clarity and support pubs face in tier two is an issue and financial support for this tier is an absolute must.”
According to real estate adviser Altus Group, across the 89 tier two “high-alert” council areas in England there are 11,798 pubs and 471 wine bars.
Image: Pippa Fowles / No 10 Downing Street via Flickr
Latest tier movers
As reported by The MA, South Yorkshire pubs were subjected to tier three rules as of Saturday 24 October after Sheffield City Region mayor Dan Jarvis revealed the area would be bumped up into the toughest coronavirus regulations after talks with the Government, with new restrictions also applying to businesses in Barnsley, Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield.
What’s more, Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry and Slough moved into the tier two “high" alert level of coronavirus restrictions from a minute past midnight on Saturday 24 October, health secretary Matt Hancock announced.
Hancock also revealed that he was entering formal discussions with local leaders in Warrington, in Cheshire, on a possible move from tier two to the most stringent tier three level, under which pubs and bars must close.