Lancashire Times
A Voice of the North
Andrew Liddle
Features Writer
2:55 AM 30th September 2020

Curfew Threatens Pub Closures

At the end of the first weekend of pubs observing a 10pm curfew and mandatory table service, many are reporting a significant drop in trade. Commenting on the impact of the latest Covid-19 restrictions, James Calder, Chief Executive of SIBA said: ‘Publicans are in a state of despair. They are not ordering beer because they are anticipating an imminent ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown that will close their pubs not just for another fortnight, but potentially for good.’

Image by Stefan Wiegand from Pixabay
Image by Stefan Wiegand from Pixabay
Mr Calder believes that, ‘The message Government are sending to the brewing sector is that despite everything we have done to make our sector safe, despite that the Government’s own evidence points toward a tiny minority of transmission is coming from hospitality that we are the still the big problem. We as a sector are being scapegoated because the Government need to be seen to be doing something – without being shown the evidence and rationale used to explain the decision.

‘We know from the first lockdown that you cannot simply switch on or switch off a pub or a brewery. A ‘social lockdown’ will deal a huge financial blow to hundreds, if not thousands of businesses. If Government go down this route they need to provide the evidence, in advance, that a shutdown of pubs and breweries will help tackle the virus. If they can, then Government also need to provide a full furlough extension, business rate support, rent support, cuts to VAT on beer and reverse the planned tax changes for small breweries. Parliament should be allowed to debate any new restrictions, not simply enacted through emergency powers.’

At the same time, Britain’s publicans have written an open letter to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, urging him and the Government to urgently support pubs or be responsible for mass closures, job losses and hardship. Organised by the Campaign For Pubs, the national grassroots campaign group representing pubs, publicans and pub-goers, the letter expresses dismay at the lack of support from the Chancellor in his economic statement last Thursday. Without additional help, it says, many pubs face imminent closure under the new Government-imposed restrictions.

Apparently, many publicans are now considering whether to close until after the restrictions end or to simply walk away altogether, especially with many pubs still facing large rent bills from their commercial landlords.

The letter explains that pubs not serving food were given no support despite the fact that the 10pm curfew and table service requirement would necessarily have a drastic impact on the their viability. It acknowledges that while the extension of the 5% VAT rate for eating out is of limited help to some pubs, it gives another huge boost to alternative big business hospitality venues, including fast-food but does nothing to help many of smaller ‘wet-led’ (i.e. drinks only) pubs, micro-pubs and taprooms, often the heart of their communities. Furthermore, the new Job Support Scheme offers no help at all to most pubs, which certainly cannot afford to subsidise staff

There is real anger that venues already having invested heavily in such things as screens, to keep customers safe, the Government has now insisted on table service, which not only makes many pub staff less safe but also increases staff costs significantly.

The letter concludes by calling urgently for package of support for pubs, including: 5% VAT on all sales in pubs; grants to cover full costs if pubs are not viable due to the current restrictions and have to close temporarily; a business rates holiday extension, with a complete overhaul for business rates for pubs prior to recommencing; and an immediate rent review for all pubs.

Those for whom the letter makes gloomy reading must fervently hope that its words do not fall on deaf ears.