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Tue 23rd Feb 2021 - Operators criticise delay until May for indoor dining
Operators criticise delay until May for indoor dining: More operators have expressed frustration that the government has delayed the re-opening of indoor dining until May. Shepherd Neame chief executive Jonathan Neame said: “We are disappointed that we cannot open for indoor service earlier and believe that pubs should open at the same time as non-essential retail. But the critical point is that from 21 June all legal limits on social contact will be removed. This is the moment that we can finally come together again to enjoy everything that defines the Great British pub – music, sport, laughter and chat. We are in the business of bringing people together not keeping them apart. We also welcome the government’s decision to remove the more unworkable restrictions introduced in the autumn such as the ‘substantial meal’ rule. Instead, we will follow the same exemplary hygiene and social distancing measures introduced last summer to ensure a safe environment for our team members and customers. By 17 May, the majority of our pubs will have been closed to the public for a staggering 192 days in addition to the 105 days of the first lockdown. We have supported our licensees by not charging rent at this time but all pubs will continue to lose money until the summer. All eyes are now on the Chancellor next week for his budget announcement. The whole industry is calling for the following support: An extended cut in VAT to 2022; A beer duty cut; Cancellation of business rates to 2022; Extension of furlough to the end of June. If we can stick to this exit roadmap and receive a new level of financial support, then our pubs and our business can start to recover, allowing us to create jobs, invest in our business and support all those local suppliers as we always have done. Socialising with a beer has been core to human existence for over 5,000 years and it is not going to cease now! We are incredibly proud that our pubs have remained at the heart of their communities throughout this crisis, working to provide vital services and support. After the unprecedented impact of the past year, the need for pubs to reopen and provide that social hub is more urgent than ever.” Oakman Inns chief executive Peter Borg-Neal wrote in the Telegraph: “It looks like we will only be able to serve outdoors in April. Well, you know, if I had some pubs in Brazil or the West Indies I would be very excited, but last time I checked the weather in England in April isn’t great. It’s likely to be very unprofitable. We have some pubs which will be able to get more benefit but we won’t be able to get them all open. Some will be running at a loss. We need to know what is actually going to happen. Will people be able to sit down, will they be able to mill about? The rules show abject stupidity and a lack of understanding of human behaviour. When indoor hospitality comes in we are assuming there will be some limit on numbers. The rule of six isn’t too bad, you can live with that, but I think that’s where we should be in April not May. They say outdoor is better than indoor [for transmission] but surely indoor at a pub, with mechanical ventilation, is better than indoor in a house? [If pubs cannot fully open] you will just get more people gathering indoors at homers to watch sporting events or whatever.” Mark Davies, chief executive of Hawthorn, said: “Whilst we appreciate the clarity around dates for reopening, there’s little else in this roadmap to be positive about. The sector’s enormous investments and efforts to make premises covid-safe last year have been completely overlooked again, and we find ourselves at the back of the queue for reopening, under conditions which simply won’t work for most pubs. The substantial meal and curfew have been rightfully consigned to history, but outdoor-only opening is not a viable proposition for many. Although over 80% of our community pubs have outdoor space, it’s likely that most pubs’ trading capability will continue to be impaired at levels well below normal operating levels, making them simply unviable. That’s before we have to factor in the Great British weather. We will continue to support our Pub Partners until they are able to fully reopen, however, the government must provide urgent and further financial support to all pubs until more normalised trading can resume on 21 June which is a full four months away. We also need urgent clarity on what trading conditions will look like on 21 June. It’s the longest day of the year and we can’t wait too long for clarity. I will be writing to the Chancellor this week setting out the high degree of urgency now required on further support grants, Business rates relief, VAT and beer duty. Without all of this I will make it clear there will be so many communities in this country that will lose their community pub forever. No government should want that on their watch when the parliamentary constituencies that vote for them rely so much on their local pub as a community asset.” Corbin & King chief executive Jeremy King, writing in the Daily Mail stated: “The most ridiculous part of this is that by the middle of April all people over 50 – the most vulnerable group among our restaurant customers – will have been offered a vaccine. What’s more, we in the trade worked incredibly hard last year to make our premises covid-secure. Staff were re-trained, tables removed to conform to social distancing regulations, thermometers installed, perspex screens and signage erected, gel cards and sanitation purchased. As a result, restaurants and pubs were broadly able to function within the tier system, and crucially, keep customers and staff safe. Even the government now concedes that hospitality venues have hardly been a factor in covid transmission. Now Mr Johnson is gambling with the health of the hospitality sector – he cannot know how many of these business will ever reopen. I can tell him bluntly: significant numbers of the businesses currently drawing down furlough money will never actually reopen because they are holed below the financial waterline. Those of us who work in an industry that before covid employed some three million people, generating revenues of some £72 billion pounds a year, are offered no proper explanation of how these decisions are reached. Nor are we properly consulted, or asked for our input. Such arrogance led to the imposition of the ridiculous curfew in pubs and restaurants last year, which actually increased the infection risk as it led to the mass ejection of customers at 10pm and a subsequent rush to public transport. We restaurateurs, innkeepers, club operators, and cafe owners generate billions of pounds of tax receipts in payroll taxes, VAT and profits, and yet – frankly – are treated with utter contempt.”


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