Restart Grants 'difference between survival or failure' for many pubs

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Grant support: operators have said they feel frustrated and stressed waiting for payments under the Restart scheme (image: Getty/ Alena Kravchenko)
Grant support: operators have said they feel frustrated and stressed waiting for payments under the Restart scheme (image: Getty/ Alena Kravchenko)

Related tags lockdown grants Pubs Beer Legislation Health and safety

Operators who are yet to receive a Restart Grant have said they feel local authorities’ slow approach is hampering their chance of recovery.

While many of The Morning Advertiser ​(MA​)’s readers have described receiving payments under the Restart scheme promptly, others have struggled with a lack of communication and delays from councils.

One trade body estimated that just one third of its members had been paid.

The Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has asked local authorities to ensure additional fraud checks are carried out​ with this round of business support grants.

This means a more rigorous approach than with previous business support grants, including company and bank account checks to reduce the risk of fraud or payments in error.

BEIS has asked councils to pay eligible applicants by 31 July 2021 after councils received the funding on 1 April 2021.

This comes despite trade bodies urging local authorities to not delay payments after previous issues with Government grants related to lockdown and restrictions.​ 

The scheme allocates different sums of up to £18,000 to pubs depending on their rateable value. 

Gloucestershire pub operator Andy Ross told The MA​ he applied for a grant two weeks ago and has not heard anything yet from the local authority.

If the grant is not paid before the end of the month the operator is considering shutting his site down again. 

With outdoor service now permitted, the pub is trading at about 50% of its normal trade, which was expected by the operator. 

Awaiting payment

However, the licensee had assumed the grant would be paid in time to cover staff and stock costs related to reopening.

Another pub operator affected by delays is Wayne Glover who runs the Bridge Hotel in Durham and described the last hurdle before reopening next month as a “nightmare."

He said he was frustrated at the lack of progress in accessing the grant, given that local authorities received the funding from central Government at the beginning of April.

After appealing to other licensees on social media, Glover said the situation seemed to be “inconsistent” between postcodes.

While some councils had paid out automatically in the first week of the month, other licensees were still waiting to see an application form on their council’s website, the operator recounted.

The licensee is also waiting for the Restart Grant so he can access a local recovery grant, which he must contribute a 25% sum to.

He described having “technicians and painters and decorators on standby to start” works on his letting rooms upon receipt of the Restart Grant. 

Fortunate minority

UKHospitality (UKH) chief executive Kate Nicholls said the grants could be “the difference between survival or failure for many businesses,” as trading restrictions will continue until  at least 21 June.

She said: “UKH continues to be in close and frequent dialogue with the Government on this but despite their guidance and encouragement for local authorities to expedite payments, too many grants remain unpaid for seemingly no good reason.

“Only a fortunate minority have found themselves able to return to trading and the immediate prospects for viability – let alone profitability – feels a long way off for most.”

What’s more, the British Beer & Pub Association has informed its members that some local authorities may have large amounts of grant funding still available under different schemes.

In particular, brewers are encouraged to apply for discretionary funds from local authorities.

Speaking to The MAon the week beer gardens were allowed to reopen​, Derbyshire operator Lee Mills described confusion and anger after communicating with his council over when a grant payment may be made.

Without grant money in the bank, he was unable to reopen his Creswell pub Ours on Monday 12 April as he could not pay for a beer order.

Mills said the approach meant smaller businesses were hit hardest.

“Big pub companies have got money in the bank,” he explained, “I've got no money in my bank and can't reopen my doors until I get that grant.”

“I can't even afford to buy a box of Walkers crisps,” he added.

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