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Wed 19th May 2021 - Plans to ease social distancing in ‘disarray’
Plans to ease social distancing in ‘disarray’: Plans for easing social distancing rules were said to be in ‘disarray’ on Tuesday amid concerns that pubs and restaurants may still have to serve at limited capacity after 21 June. Government insiders told The Telegraph that the public may have to wait until 14 June – almost four weeks away – to hear what will change after announcements due next week were delayed. Hospitality industry bosses now fear pubs and restaurants will be made to continue to follow the “one metre plus” rule, table service requirements and ban on standing at the bar into July. Such a move could have a major financial impact on firms which, even with indoor dining open again, can only on average operate at just 60% full capacity. Boris Johnson offered words of reassurance on Tuesday, saying he had not yet seen anything ‘conclusive’ in the covid data to force back the final stage of England’s reopening on 21 June. But one government source familiar with the review into social distancing rules said its conclusions were now uncertain, warning: “It’s been thrown into disarray by the Indian variant.” Downing Street has not ruled out localised lockdowns in recent days, stressing that all options are on the table. Neither has a delay to the 21 June reopening date been ruled out, while a much less full reopening than originally planned, with more social distancing rules remaining in place, is another option being explored. The move would allow Number 10 to claim that its reopening roadmap was not being strictly delayed, as some reopening would still take place – but it would be significantly scaled back. Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, told The Telegraph: “We know that all hospitality businesses are not profitable and not viable as long as social distancing measures remain in place. 21 June has always been a backstop to give businesses certainty, knowing when they can move forward to viability. Our fear is that we may lose that as a result of the current reviews. Restrictions may be lifted in part, not wholly, and businesses may be left in limbo.”

91 new companies added to updated database of multi-site businesses exclusively available to Premium subscribers, 11,500-word report to accompany May send-out: A minimum of 91 new companies have been added to the updated database of multi-site companies for May, which is available exclusively to Propel Premium subscribers. Subscribers will not only receive the database as a PDF and an Excel spreadsheet, they will also be sent an 11,500-word report on the businesses that have been added since its April update, when it is released on Friday, 28 May, at midday. When the most comprehensive multi-site database in the sector was first updated at the end of March, it had 1,631 companies; by the end of May, it will have at least 1,808. The go-to database provides company names, the people in charge, how many sites each firm operates, its trading name and its registered name at Companies House if different. In a new feature this year, there is a synopsis of what the business does and significant news associated with it. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The regular single subscription rate of £395 plus VAT for operators and £495 plus VAT for suppliers remains the same. Premium subscribers are also to receive access to a second exclusive monthly database, The Propel Blue Book. This database will provide an insight into UK operator turnover and profitability over five years, profit conversion and directors’ earnings. It will be available on Friday, 4 June, at midday. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out; regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Propel insights editor Mark Wingett. Email jo.charity@propelinfo.com to sign up.

M&B reports £200m loss in First Half: Mitchells & Butlers has reported sales of £219m for the 28 weeks ended 28 April, around a fifth of £1.029m of sales in the comparable half year. There was a loss before tax of £200m (HY2020 – loss of £121m). Only 14 weeks of restricted trade were possible in the First Half. Phil Urban, chief executive, said: “M&B was a high performing business coming into the pandemic. With the support of our main stakeholders, we are now well placed to emerge in a strong competitive position and look forward to the removal of remaining trading restrictions in June such that the business is able to return again to full and sustainable profitability. With our great estate, well diversified portfolio of brands and proven management team, we look forward to welcoming back our guests for great experiences in covid-19 secure environments and focusing the business once again on continually enhancing our customer proposition while driving efficiencies through the Ignite programme.” The company added: “The government’s announcement on 22 February provided a roadmap for the easing of restrictions and we have successfully traded an average of 535 sites from outdoor areas since 12 April. Performance has been varied and heavily influenced by the weather, with outdoor sales in open sites being on average 37% down on full pre covid-19 levels (outdoor and indoor). Encouragingly our average guest review scores since reopening were 4.4 out of five, despite the restricted trading conditions. The CGA Consumer Pulse survey has shown 44% of adults visited hospitality venues in the first week of trading, 9% points higher than reopening after England’s first national lockdown. This indicates that consumer demand for hospitality remains strong and provided us with optimism ahead of our reopening for indoor trading on 17 May, with almost all of our estate now open.”

Marston’s reports sites trading at 80% of pre-covid levels: Marston’s has reported sales of £55.1m in the 26 weeks ended 3 April (2020: £343.3m) and a loss of £105.9m (2020: £7.6m profit). The company stated: “Performance reflects the significant impact of trading restrictions in place for majority of period; strong management response to second period of lockdown.” The company said there were early indications of strong customer demand since easing of lockdown with sales in like-for-like sites running at around 80% of pre-covid levels – April sales were sufficient to deliver break-even group Ebitda. Chief executive Ralph Findlay said: “Despite the challenges of the last year, the actions we have taken have ensured that Marston’s has emerged a stronger and more focused business with a substantially strengthened balance sheet, a 40% stake in Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company and a clear vision for the future. This is my last set of results as chief executive officer and I am confident that the business is in an excellent position to execute its strategy and deliver a return to growth as the country recovers from the pandemic. Whilst still early days, trading has been encouraging since we were permitted to open our doors for outdoor trading last month and it has been fantastic to have our teams back in the business, doing what they do best, and welcoming customers back into our pubs. Our recent strategic investment in additional outdoor trading areas ahead of reopening has enabled us to capitalise on the clear pent- up consumer demand for the pub. We look forward to all trading restrictions being removed next month which signals a return to some semblance of normality. I am delighted to hand over the reins of chief executive officer to Andrew Andrea later this year and am confident that both Marston’s – and its talented team of people – will be in extremely able hands under his stewardship. He shares the passion I have for this very special business and brings with him invaluable experience and knowledge of both Marston’s and the pub sector, having been instrumental in shaping the group’s strategy to date. Marston’s has a great opportunity ahead and I look forward to seeing the group go from strength to strength as it embarks on the next exciting stage of its development.”

Big events without masks are no riskier than shopping, covid trials show: Holding mass events without masks and social distancing can be as safe as going to a restaurant or shopping centre, government trials suggest. According to The Times, preliminary data from the events research programme is understood to have found that with screening, improved ventilation and other mitigating factors the risk of virus transmission can be significantly reduced, reducing fears that sports matches and concerts could cause big outbreaks. The results will boost hopes that the end of restrictions can go ahead as planned on 21 June despite the spread of the Indian variant. They are likely to strengthen the case for requiring “covid-status certification” for such events to prove that those attending are at lower risk of being infectious. While the research programme took place before concerns over the spread of the Indian variant, it is likely to form a key plank of the government’s plans for the reopening of society. A government source said the results from the trials had been encouraging and further test events were planned for the coming weeks. “We are still waiting for the final bits of data but the results so far have been very encouraging,” the source said. “It will help make the case that these large events are not inherently more risky than other parts of the hospitality sector. It shows that there are things that you can do to make these settings as safe as other daily activities. It is true that they are not going to be 100% safe but you can lower the risk to a reasonable level.”

Whitbread reports three of five Premier Inn sites planned for Dublin are under construction: Whitbread, the owner of Premier Inn, the UK’s largest hotel business, is pressing on with its expansion plans in Dublin city centre with three of its five pipeline hotels currently under construction. The company is targeting 2,500 Premier Inn hotel rooms in Dublin as it responds to a recognised undersupply of branded budget hotel accommodation in the city. A 97-bedroom Premier Inn on South Great George’s Street will be the first of Premier Inn’s city centre hotels to open when it welcomes guests this autumn. New Premier Inn hotels at Gloucester Street (113-bedrooms) and Newmarket (151-bedrooms) in the city will follow in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Other secured locations for Premier in Dublin city centre include a flagship 262-bedroom docklands hotel at Castleforbes, with developer Glenveagh PLC, and a 206-bedroom freehold development at Jervis Street. A 187-bedroom Premier Inn hotel at Morrison Quay in Cork is also planned. Matt Gent, development manager for Premier Inn in Ireland, said: “We see enormous potential for Premier Inn in Dublin, and it feels great to be on site and working closely with our development partners to progress our pipeline of city centre hotels following the return to full construction activity. With a gradual easing of lockdown measures planned for the summer, and our first hotel in Dublin city centre opening this autumn at South Great George’s Street, I am hopeful we will be able to explore new locations for Premier Inn in the city and grow our network in Dublin further.” Alongside its investment in Ireland, Whitbread is expanding Premier Inn rapidly in Germany where it has a network of 72 Premier Inn hotels (trading and in the secured development pipeline) and sees the potential for 60,000 Premier Inn rooms across the country. In the UK, Whitbread continues to expand its estate of Premier Inn and hub by Premier Inn hotels with between 2,000 and 3,000 new rooms committed to open this financial year as the company seeks to gain market share and capitalise on the recovery opportunity. 

Ex-Cote MD Samúelsson joins Tasty board: Harald Samúelsson, ex-joint managing director of Cote and Bill’s, has joined the board of Tasty, the listed owner of the Wildwood and Dim T brands, an independent non-executive director, with immediate effect. Samúelsson has over 20 years of experience in the UK restaurant industry. From 2000 to 2008, he helped grow Strada Restaurants from four to 54 restaurants in the UK in a senior operations position. In 2008, he joined Cote as joint managing director, and alongside Alex Scrimgeour, grew the group from two to 72 restaurants. In 2013, Samúelsson co-led a management buy-out of Cote with CBPE Private Equity for £100m and in 2015 co-led a sale of Cote to BC Partners for £245m. During his Cote tenure, he was also joint managing director at Bill’s restaurants from 2010 to 2012. In 2016, he joined Honest Burgers as a senior advisor and set up a property development company in Spain with projects in the Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona areas. Keith Lassman, non-executive chairman, said: “I am delighted to welcome Harald to the board. His considerable industry experience will be hugely beneficial to us as the group looks forward to the sector recovering from the pandemic.”

Gilliland joins the board of Chapel Down: Chapel Down Group, the listed English wine and drinks producer, has announced that Stewart Gilliland, current chairman of C&C Group and former director at Mitchells & Butlers (M&B) has been appointed to its board as a non-executive director with immediate effect. Gilliland has over 30 years’ experience and knowledge in international marketing, logistics and business management and previously held executive roles with leading consumer-facing companies, including Whitbread, M&B and Interbrew. He held the position of chief executive of Müller Dairies UK and Ireland until 2010. He is currently chairman of C&C Group plc and a non-executive director of Tesco plc. Prior to joining the board of Tesco, he was chairman of Booker Group plc. Frazer Thompson, Chapel Down chief executive, said: “I am delighted to formally welcome Stewart to the board. Stewart brings not only extensive drinks industry experience and FMCG expertise built at ABInBev, Muller, M&B, Tesco and C&C but also a love of great brands and an enthusiasm for our business. With Stewart’s strategic and commercial skills and outstanding people skills we know that he will be a great asset for the company and I am truly delighted that he has agreed to help us on our journey.”

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