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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 22nd Jan 2021 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: The long covid society, discovering the next pub model, take out to help out
Authors: Paul Chase, Glynn Davis, Amber Staynings
 

The long covid society by Paul Chase

Over the past ten months, we have been living through the most extraordinary time since World War II. The coronavirus pandemic has created unprecedented challenges for governments globally. And no government has got it right. Lockdown fanatics point to New Zealand as their example of how to make lockdowns work. Libertarians point to Sweden as their example of how to achieve the right balance between public health and economic health. When we come out the other side of this there will certainly be public enquiries – at least in the democratic countries – into how governments have managed this global health and economic catastrophe. Covid will cast a long shadow.
 
Personally, I have no interest in party political blame games. Any and every government has found this difficult. But I am interested in learning lessons. Whatever your view of how the UK government has handled this, there is surely no one who believes that we could or should do exactly the same next time. And there will be a next time. The only question is, when? If you believe that the covid-19 pandemic is a once-in-a-hundred-years event then the question “what would we do differently next time?” isn’t particularly urgent, But, if as some believe, we are moving into a new era of pandemics and we might be faced with another, similar emergency in five or ten years’ time, the answer to this question is very urgent indeed.
 
When considering what we might do differently next time, there are two aspects: public health and the economy. What is painfully obvious is that our health service and wider public health infrastructure were ill-equipped to deal with such a sudden and overwhelming emergency. Public Health England (PHE) was just not up to the job. The government is right to abolish PHE because its institutional obsession with lifestyle diseases meant it had taken its eye off the ball when it came to dealing with an old-fashioned contagious disease epidemic. The preparatory work done by PHE and the NHS was modelled on the assumption that a flu epidemic was the most likely future scenario we faced. No one in our public health establishment saw this coming.
 
What is important now is what replaces PHE. I would like to see a National Centre for Contagious Disease Control established, whose sole remit is to prepare us for future epidemics and to build the necessary infrastructure. There are several elements to this: firstly, research into the most likely sources of future viral outbreaks that could happen at scale – where are the new threats likely to come from and how do we prepare for them? 
 
Secondly, to prevent a future viral outbreak getting out of control requires an effective system of test, trace and isolate. We clearly didn’t have this in place and have struggled to create it from scratch in the middle of the worst pandemic since the flu pandemic of 1918. An investment is required in setting this up and embedding it in local public health teams so it can be switched on and off when we need it. This is an example of where local provision is preferable to a national, command and control system that is too unwieldy and cannot be sustained in the long term.
 
Thirdly, there is little point in setting up Nightingale hospitals if we cannot staff them. Long term, we need to recruit and train more doctors and nurses, but the requirement when an epidemic hits us is the ability to flex-up staff levels quickly. I would like to see the establishment of a medical equivalent of the Territorial Army. An army of medical reservists recruited from the ranks of doctors and nurses who have retired and who are willing to help in an emergency. Regular training to keep their skills updated would need to be part of this. These people cannot step into intensive care roles but can take over routine doctoring and nursing in an emergency to free-up full-time staff.
 
And then there are the economic aspects of this. Whether you think locking up the mostly healthy population to protect the elderly and medically vulnerable works or not, we simply cannot afford to do it again. We have seen an economic contraction that is the worst in 300 years. The tsunami of unemployment has yet to be fully unleashed as people come out of furlough only to find they’ve been paid not to work by zombie businesses that will never reopen through no fault of their own. Licensed retail and the wider hospitality industry, in particular, have been decimated by the policy of stop-start lockdowns. The impact on our public finances is likely to top £500bn. 
 
The elderly and medically vulnerable will always be more susceptible to a contagious virus – particularly in care homes and hospitals. One of the lessons of this pandemic is that we must find more effective ways of shielding them. Effective test and trace; the ability to flex-up staffing and hospital admission capacity; effective shielding policies for the elderly and vulnerable – these are the elements of a strategy that will enable us to cope with future pandemics in a way that doesn’t decimate our economy and deprive us of our precious personal liberties. 
 
Doing all this will be costly. But surely not as costly as not doing it.
Paul Chase is director of Chase Consultancy and a leading industry commentator on alcohol and health
 

Discovering the next pub model by Glynn Davis

When The Eagle in Farringdon Road opened its doors exactly 30 years ago, it confused many people with its ramshackle fit-out of mismatched chairs and tables, exposed wooden flooring, random mix of tableware, and a less-than-fine paint job, combined with its value-for-money, one-plate-dining proposition.
 
The trend at the time for theme pubs was going full throttle and visitors to The Eagle would ask: what is the theme? If there was one it was accessible Mediterranean cuisine. The snooty Harpers & Queen dubbed it “Pleb Med”. However, it was given its very own theme, gastro-pub, by the late Charles Campion. With this moniker, it went on to massively influence the pub sector.
 
This sat very uneasily with The Eagle co-founders Michael Belben and David Eyre who knew their creation was very much down to limited resources and constrained circumstances rather than a result of some finely executed master plan they had devised to redefine the pub landscape. 

The reality is they did not even want to run a pub.
 
The plan had been to open a restaurant in Covent Garden but the rentals were simply too high. It so happened, at the time, the Beer Orders legislation was pushing the large brewers to offload many of their pubs. Among those recognising a good deal could be done were Belben and Eyre who took an unloved outlet on the edge of the City of London and created something new and bold. It certainly cut completely against the trends of the day.
 
Fast forward to today and there might well be some loose similarities with the time of The Eagle’s founding. We have certainly reached a stage where covid-19 has brought us to a position where there are deals to be done.
 
Only this week, there have been major announcements within the pub sector with JD Wetherspoon raising £93.7m to fund the acquisition of new properties and former Greene King chief executive Rooney Anand raising about £200m for his Redcat Pub Company that will undertake a series of purchases. They both see an opportunity in the market to pick up outlets at favourable prices as assets become available from distressed operators and stretched landlords.
 
There is also a climate for change creeping in now that people have had the best part of a year to assess their financial circumstances, work situation, general lifestyles and family dynamics. In this state of flux, there are clearly opportunities for newcomers with ideas and also others who spot openings. Among them are Hawthorne Leisure co-founders Gerry Carroll and Mark McGinty who are fundraising for their newly launched Valiant Pub Company, which will focus on suburban and community pubs. They haven’t been the cool part of the market for years but times have changed.
 
Certainly the community aspect resonates very strongly right now. We’ve seen the owners of the Michelin-starred Pony & Trap announce the gastro-pub will be relaunched as a community interest company. This will open it up to a greater number of people – beyond just the affluent. Among other things, it will involve turning it into a school for chefs and giving free food boxes for people who help in its gardens. 
 
This reassessment of the model is very much reflective of how pubs have been adapting during the past year and much of what we have seen will undoubtedly form part of the mix in the future when it comes to things like home delivery services, click and collect, cook-at-home kits, subscription boxes, retail elements, table service and other initiatives. 
 
This backdrop of property becoming available and the great state of change taking place among consumers is presenting an opportunity for the creation of the potentially era-defining pub models of the future. This might sound a little like trying to find the proverbial needle in a haystack but who knows it could well be the next Eagle that is found in that haystack.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends
 

Take out to help out by Amber Staynings

There is a growing realisation a “takeaway” is no longer the preserve of the local Indian or Chinese. Customers in lockdown have been seeking out their preferred restaurant, cafe or pub for an opportunity to enjoy their favourite meal, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, as a “takeaway”. 
 
I have been keen to demonstrate just how important this change in customer behaviour is becoming for the hospitality industry, hence the idea of “Take Out To Help Out” (TOTHO) as an alternative to the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, introduced by the government in August last year.
 
As we all know, this industry is now in a struggle for survival, requiring new ways of delivering profitability to support the all-important pre-booked sales and occasional walk-ins. In my view, TOTHO is an example of innovation in practice with considerable advantages for most hospitality venues. It also benefits the local community and ensures venues are at the forefront of their customers’ thoughts throughout lockdown and beyond.
 
I have set out a compelling list of reasons why restaurants and others – large or independent – should move to embed TOTHO as the new norm, requiring a simple strategy that gives venues a cost-effective means of competing with the likes of Deliveroo and other commission-based agencies. TOTHO offers businesses a route to market otherwise denied them by lockdown, in the short term, and by increased competition and changing customer expectations beyond that. TOTHO keeps customers loyal to their brand and enables businesses to exploit innovative ways of increasing their profile as well as ensuring customers return to put bums on seats. 
 
How is this to be achieved? Firstly, by paying special attention to branding, which should exploit every TOTHO order to promote the individual business. Customers are increasingly aware of the type of packaging used in terms of sustainability, as well as the higher profile given to vegetarian and vegan options. The greater the commitment to social responsibilities, with TOTHO orders aimed at health and well-being, the more widespread and relevant hospitality becomes. Secondly, by taking advantage of innovation in practice afforded by TOTHO. This includes incentivising customers by offering rewards for introducing friends or family to businesses offering TOTHO, as well as offering TOTHO meal kits for preparing at home, and wine, beer or cocktail packages with written or online guides to make the occasion really special. Thirdly, by tailoring TOTHO orders to special events and key calendar events such as birthdays, anniversaries and romantic trysts such as Valentine’s Day and, perhaps, adding a complimentary rose with the order. Imagination has almost free range here, with TOTHO encompassing casual and fine dining at home with or without accompanying drinks for the more discerning or for those wanting simply to make the occasion very special. Finally, TOTHO also give greater scope to offer gifting opportunities, bringing a unique brand of food, drink and delivery to a whole new audience that will return once doors are open again. 
 
We have been overwhelmed with the positive responses received to date in connection with the concept of making TOTHO a feature of the way restaurants, bars and other venues operate in the future. Everyone is only too aware of the damage caused by covid-19 and the fact customer behaviours will be influenced for many years to come. There is no reason why most venues cannot embrace TOTHO positively, using it as a model of delivery sitting alongside their traditional in-house offerings, and opening up a new and growing market for their unique food and drink experiences.
Amber Staynings is chief executive of Bums on Seats
Bums on Seats is a Propel BeatTheVirus campaign member

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