Local pubs and breweries made it through to the end of September in better shape than you might have expected, after all pubs and tap-rooms were closed for 3½ months because of Covid-19 while breweries had to scale back or even halt production.
But we could now have a false sense of security, as the effects of a 10pm curfew kick in and colder, wetter weather makes those outside spaces rather less tempting. Oxford faces a particular challenge as many thousands more students arrive from all over the UK and all over the world, which may well increase the city’s infection rate and could lead to further restrictions. And then there is the scaled back jobs support scheme.
A survey by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) in August revealed that 37% of pubs could not even break even a month after re-opening, while 25% of pubs and breweries did not feel they would survive beyond March 2021 as things stood. Since then the 10pm curfew and other restrictions have made the outlook worse, including table service only, the wearing of face coverings in pubs when not seated, and mandatory collection of Track and Trace details – all or any of which might put off some people.
In some parts of the country it is now illegal to meet people from another household in a pub or brewery, inside or outside, as in many other public places and in your own home, enforceable by on-the-spot fines.
Pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues have benefited from Government support above and beyond what many other sectors have received, but CAMRA and the BBPA say it just doesn’t go far enough. The cut in VAT from 20% to 5% for hospitality businesses continues over the winter, but crucially it applies only to food, accommodation and soft drinks, and not to alcohol sales.
While business rates relief, grants, loans and the “Eat Out to Help Out” discount scheme in August all helped, pubs need support tailored to them to get them through the winter. The end of the furlough scheme in October and its replacement by less generous state support for staff wages is another serious blow.
CAMRA National Chairman Nik Antona reacted to the Chancellor’s scaled back jobs support scheme by saying: “What we’ve heard does not go far enough to support pubs, especially wet-led pubs, or breweries and the wider supply chain. As we’ve seen from recent industry statistics, this is going to be massively impacted by new restrictions, with job losses and potential closures before Christmas.
“What the hospitality industry needs is a support package including an extension of the business rates holiday, grants rather than loans, consideration of a differential rate of duty on draft beer served in pubs, and real support for wet-led pubs which cannot benefit from the VAT cut extension.”
CAMRA Chief Executive Tom Stainer said the 10pm curfew was unfair, calling for evidence that pubs are breeding grounds for the virus. “Pub-goers and publicans alike want to stop the spread of Covid-19, but this curfew is an arbitrary restriction that unfairly targets the hospitality sector and will have a devastating impact on pubs, jobs and local communities,” he said.
“For the third time in a week, CAMRA is calling for the Government to publish the evidence that pubs or restaurants are the source of more transmissions than other sectors across the country – if they aren’t, then why are they being singled out for nationwide restrictions? This is punishing the thousands of responsible publicans across England who are providing a Covid-secure environment for their communities, while already operating at greatly reduced levels in their efforts to keep their customers safe.
“Make no mistake about this – without a proper financial support package, communities will lose their local forever, people will lose their jobs, and publicans their livelihoods.”