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Sat 20th Feb 2021 - Update: Sector bosses speak out ahead of PM announcing reopening roadmap
Vincent – Leon losing circa £200,000 a week, extending lockdowns will ‘cost lives’: Natural fast food brand Leon has been losing about £200,000 a week and it was "quite possible" the company could fold if lockdown “drags on”, co-founder John Vincent has said. Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Vincent said extending lockdowns even by a matter of weeks would “cost lives”, and businesses were “at the heart of a functioning and healthy society” and were losing money that should be going to their employees and the government through taxes. Vincent said the £200,000 figure was more like £800,000 when "what we would have been making" is taken into account. He said: “That's money that isn't going into the economy, it's not going into the wallets of the people who work for Leon, and it's not going to pay the taxes that we need to pay. No one's asked us for these numbers, so how does the government know what's going on in the economy?" He said there had been a “pantomime of scientists against business” during the pandemic – “as if there isn't one giant shared agenda” – and businesses were “positioned as the uncompassionate ones”. But the length of lockdowns “matters hugely”, he said, adding the government had not produced a “holistic cost-benefit analysis”. He added: “Therefore, how can we be making this decision about the impacts on the young today and for their futures? How can we make [decisions about] the impacts of the huge economic destruction that is costing lives? When we lose our economy we lose lives. How can we be saying, glibly, ‘it doesn't matter if lockdown carries on for a few weeks or months longer than necessary’ without the analysis? I wouldn't launch a chicken wrap without analysis.”

Mackenzie – no justification to treat hospitality differently from non-essential retail in terms of reopening: There is no justification to treat hospitality differently from non-essential retail in terms of reopening and the industry stands ready to be the engine that “kick-starts the British economy”, Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of brewer and retailer Greene King has said. But he warned businesses could only do that “if we are able to trade profitably again”. Writing in The Sun, Mackenzie said: “It’s hard to believe 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. 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. It is only a matter of days before the prime minister unveils his roadmap for how the economy, including hospitality, will reopen. When designing this, it is really important to learn the lessons from the last year, for the sake of businesses, jobs and livelihoods. What’s more, we believe there is no justification to treat hospitality differently from non-essential retail in terms of reopening. It goes without saying the health of the nation is paramount, and we absolutely support the need for measures to stem the rate of infections, however difficult it is for businesses. 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 the previous restrictions were like a ‘slow death’ for her business. It was heart-breaking to hear her describe the toll of trading under the heavy restrictions and the impact on the local community of losing its social hub. Another cannot afford to turn on the heating in his pub, which is also his home. These are just two examples from our 1,000 tenants and 40,000-strong workforce. Many other people have suffered financial pain and personal hardship. We believe the covid-secure measures agreed for reopening last July, such as keeping more than one metre apart, were workable, sensible – and safe. The data from last summer is clear – opening pubs that were covid-secure had no material impact on the virus transmission rate. As we look ahead to next week’s announcement, we are urging the prime minister to review the facts and take urgent steps to save the great British pub. 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 customers would still like certain restrictions when pubs reopen, such as face coverings for team members and distance between tables. But we also know just 12% 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 okay in the Mediterranean but it would be less agreeable in the UK, where average April temperatures are a brisk 14 degrees. Fewer than 1% 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 kick-starts the British economy, but we can only do that if we are able to trade profitably again. 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 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 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.”

Pub bosses call on PM to ‘step up’ to protect and support the sector: Pub company bosses have called on prime minister Boris Johnson to “step up” to protect and support the sector. Punch chief executive Clive Chesser said: “The next two weeks are critical to the short and long-term future of the pub sector. The pandemic has been devastating for all, but now is the moment for the government to act to ensure the survival, and to support the revival, of the great British pub. This week I have written to the prime minister, chancellor and business secretary calling for clarity, support and collaboration ahead of the imminent post-lockdown roadmap and the Budget – a clear roadmap out of lockdown, with pubs opening in line with other areas of retail; grants to be extended whilst trading restrictions remain; a 12-month extension of the business rates holiday for pubs; an extension and widening of the 5% VAT hospitality rate for a further 12 months; a 5% cut in beer duty; and a furlough scheme deadlines to be extended and the retention bonuses paid. The evidence shows there is no justification in putting pubs to the back of the queue. We must be allowed to reopen in a commercially viable manner, enabling us to play a vital role in rebuilding the economy, creating jobs, and bringing communities together.” Brewhouse & Kitchen chief executive Kris Gumbrell said: “The announcement on Monday (22 February) and the Budget, will be the two most significant events for the pub and brewing sectors we will have ever experienced in our lifetime. The lack of respect and a fundamental lack of appreciation of the role we play not only in the economy but also in every community has been breath-taking. We have sacrificed so much time for the government to step up.” Mark Davies, chief executive of Hawthorn, the community pub arm of NewRiver, has also written to Johnson urging him to “do the right thing” and provide the leadership and governance pubs need to survive, arguing pubs are “safer than shops and have done a better job than so many retailers at adapting to government guidance and legislation”. He highlighted the sector has already invested £500m in coronavirus safety measures, as well as the successful implementation of track and trace. He said: “Community pubs are part of the social fabric of this country and we are a massive community employer. Lockdown is having a devastating effect on so many pubs around the UK. There are many communities in this country where the community pub is the only community asset that remains. The internet has led to the closure of so many banks, shops and post offices that the community pub is all that’s left. If our communities lose their community pub as a consequence of the pandemic, they will be lost forever and the government roadmap and the support plan that sits alongside this needs to reflect this at this crucial time. Failure to act now will result in the loss of hundreds if not thousands of community pubs, and would be tantamount to abandoning the communities they serve, many of which voted for the Conservatives in the last General Election.”

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