IT’S hard to believe that it has been almost a year since we closed our doors at the start of the Covid-19 crisis.
What a challenging year it has been, with our pubs subject to ridiculous restrictions that have tied our hands — from 10pm curfews to only serving alcohol with substantial meals.
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This has been made worse by the scattergun approach to social restrictions, implemented with next to no warning and with little explanation of the rationale.
When designing this, it is really important to learn the lessons from the last year, for the sake of businesses, jobs and livelihoods.
CAN’T AFFORD TO TURN ON HEATING
What’s more, we believe there is no justification to treat hospitality differently from non-essential retail in terms of reopening.
But hospitality has been bounced around with constantly changing policies, despite the sector having invested millions of pounds last year to make venues safe for our teams and our customers.
Speaking with our tenants, I know how much of a strain this has been on them.
One recently said that the previous restrictions were like a “slow death” for her business.
This Lancashire hostelry joined thousands of pub closures[/caption]
Tenants have said the previous restrictions were like a ‘slow death’ for businesses[/caption]
Local communities are slowly losing their social hubs[/caption]
Another cannot afford to turn on the heating in his pub, which is also his home.
We believe that the Covid-secure measures agreed for reopening last July, such as keeping more than one metre apart, were workable, sensible — and safe.
First, as I said, there is no justification to treat hospitality differently from non-essential retail in terms of reopening.
We have the social distancing and Covid-secure measures in place. Second, when we reopen this time, restrictions need to be based on common sense and on the experience of last year, and they must enable pubs to actually trade.
Recent research has shown that customers would still like certain restrictions when pubs reopen, such as face coverings for team members and distance between tables.
We can be part of the solution to Britain recovering post-Covid[/caption]
But we also know that just 12 per cent of people feel closing pubs early is essential for making them safe.
The idea of an “al fresco spring” with outdoor-only eating and drinking on reopening might be OK in the Med but it would be less agreeable in the UK, where average April temperatures are a brisk 14 degrees.
Fewer than one per cent of our managed pubs would be viable with this restriction so would have to stay closed.
Businesses need certainty to be able to plan and the next few weeks are critical, with the Prime Minister’s roadmap, quickly followed by the Budget, which will determine what financial support pubs will receive over this next phase of the pandemic.
The hospitality industry stands ready to be the engine that kickstarts the British economy, but we can only do that if we are able to trade profitably again.
MEET TO CATCH UP OVER A BEER
We are grateful for the financial assistance we have received so far from the Treasury, but we urgently need the Government to keep in place sector-specific support, including extending the business rates holiday and hospitality VAT cut — including for alcohol — for another year, and supporting the country’s breweries, which are really struggling.
And if the Government does introduce tight restrictions to reopen, that must come with reciprocal financial support — recognising that we will not be back to business as usual.
With the vaccine programme progressing at brilliant speed, I’m hopeful the future looks a lot brighter.
Like so many of you, I can’t wait for that moment when I can meet friends and family in the pub to catch up over a beer, but in a safe, secure way.
We urgently need the Government to keep in place sector-specific support, such as the hospitality VAT cut[/caption]
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We can be part of the solution to Britain recovering post-Covid and we stand ready to help make that happen.
All of us need a pathway back to normality.
As part of that, we need a clear roadmap to reopening, and for pubs to do so alongside non-essential retail — otherwise we risk destroying what is the hub of our communities and a lifeline for many people.
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