Frustration among pubs

Publicans threaten to defy social distancing rules


Pubs owners are becoming frustrated by continued lockdown (pic: Terry Murden)

Pub landlords are threatening to open next month whether or not the social distancing rules are relaxed.

There are concerns that it is uneconomic for smaller hostelries to operate the two-metre stipulation, as it will restrict the numbers allowed inside at any one time.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said hospitality businesses in England can reopen after 4 July but only if the number of coronavirus cases and deaths continues to fall.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has given no date for pubs to reopen, and left the hospitality sector disappointed on Thursday by refusing to allow even pub gardens to open at least until the next review on 2 July.

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She said there was evidence that pubs and gyms were “hot spots” for transmission of Covid-19, though she did announce a review of the distancing rule.

Some landlords south of the border have threatened to defy the order as they fear they will close for good if the current distancing rule remains in place. Such a move will turn up the heat in Scotland with the country in its third month of lockdown.

The hospitality industry said a failure to reduce social distancing to one metre, in line with World Health Organisation guidelines, will cost one million jobs across the UK.

Pubs and breweries say they need at least three weeks to get ready to open because beer must be brewed and social-distancing measures have to be put in place. They also have staff coming off furlough and decisions are being taken on who is kept on.

Brewers said more than 70m pints of beer have already been thrown away during lockdown and even more will go to waste if the re-start date is delayed.

Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, treasurer of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, said he was ‘certain’ the Westminster Government would relax the rule by September, but for some that may be too late.

Yesterday, as frustration grew, a number of publicans in England said they will go ahead and open on 4 July no matter what Mr Johnson says. 

The bosses of 50 breweries and pub chains wrote to the Prime Minister this week to demand he confirm when pubs can reopen.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “The delay in the Prime Minister confirming a reopening date has moved beyond disillusionment to anger and frustration.

Continued indecision from Government is crippling the hospitality sector

– Ralph Findlay, Marston’s

“Huge investment for that opening on July 4 has been made. Hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost.”

Ralph Findlay, chief executive of Marston’s, which brews the Glasgow-owned Gen!us lager, said: “We’ve begun brewing fresh beer again to restock the nation’s pubs and now need to bring 14,000 staff off furlough to train them in the necessary safety protocols.

“Continued indecision from the [UK] Government is crippling the hospitality sector.”

A spokesman for Mitchells & Butlers , which owns pubs such as the Sheep’s Heid in Duddingston, said: “We urgently require confirmation of the July 4 opening date. We’ve already begun our preparations.”

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Scottish Licensed Trade Association managing director, Colin Wilkinson said: “The First Minister’s announcement today is a bitter blow for Scotland’s hospitality sector, which expected to be able to now kick-start the rebuilding of the industry.

“With the decision now delayed until July 2, operators face another anxious period for the survival of their businesses. This may also have a knock-on effect for the reopening of indoor areas, originally planned – all being well – for July 15.

“This delay, hypothetically only two weeks before full reopening, may be possible with social distancing measures and again brings into question whether these first steps, for those who have an outdoor area or the potential to have one, will actually help businesses to start recovering from this pandemic.

“With Government guidelines due to be published soon, hospitality businesses will have very little lead-in time to prepare for complying with guidance for outdoor areas, and that alone causes problems, especially on social distancing parameters which look like remaining at two metres, and toilet provision for customers seated outdoors.

“Research shows that unless the two metre social distancing parameters are reduced, the potential reductions in capacity could be as high as 87%.”

He added: “Without question, health and safety must come before profit but the First Minister’s comment that ‘there is emerging evidence that places such as pubs, restaurants and gyms can be hotspots for transmission’ will do nothing to alleviate customer confidence in returning to our pubs and bars.

“Already a recent survey to gauge how people feel about life post-lockdown revealed that 62% of people were unlikely to return to bars and restaurants for some time yet. The challenge of rebuilding our industry just got harder.

“The need for ongoing support for the industry is now even greater with the announcement that outdoor areas will remain closed for at least another two weeks.

“Ongoing and increased support for the months ahead is essential, and when the industry does start to rebuild, Governments, both north and south of the Border, must not see this as a marker to further reduce support for the industry.”

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