Tracks of our Tiers

Pub trade reacts to the latest restrictions as CAMRA urges members to blitz their MPs

Mass closures of pubs across the country could be looming although many will be able to re-open in a few days, when the latest available figures indicate that the hospitality industry is responsible for only a tiny proportion of Covid-19 infections.

Public Health England figures show that only 2.7% of infections had been traced to hospitality venues, while a major survey reveals that only 1% of cases identified by NHS Track and Trace have been linked to pubs and restaurants.

Pubs will only be able to re-open if they serve “substantial meals”, defined as a full breakfast, lunch or dinner rather than snacks such as soup and sandwiches. That means some of our best-loved pubs will have to remain empty and closed at least until the next review of the restrictions on December 16, only a few days before Christmas.

CAMRA is calling on its 180,000+ members to write to their MPs in protest by following the link here.

Local pubs that don’t serve food include Oxford CAMRA’s 2020 Pub of the Year winner the Royal Blenheim in central Oxford, and our 2019 winner the Masons Arms in Headington Quarry. Other non-food pubs include the Harcourt Arms in Jericho, the Wheatsheaf in central Oxford and the Half Moon in St Clements, and micro-pubs around the county including Drummers Bar (formerly Oxbrew) in Witney.

The Royal Blenheim hasn’t served food for a couple of years

Hook Norton – which owns 35 pubs as well as operating a brewery dating from 1849 – described Covid-19 as the worst crisis in its history. Managing director James Clarke said: “We feel that since the start of this, our industry and pubs in particular have done everything that has been asked of them to make and create a safe environment within which people can enjoy the social side of eating and drinking out. The hospitality sector, we feel, has been unfairly targeted with measures that have little or no scientific basis.

We stand with everyone in our industry and share the views of our trade associations in opposing and challenging these measures. We hope that the Government sees sense and reviews the proposed measures to ensure this country has a pub and hospitality industry to return to in the New Year.”

Hook Norton’s James Clarke

Breweries will be badly hit too, unable to re-open their tap rooms unless they serve substantial meals. Many introduced delivery and collection services during the first lockdown, but those reliant on pub sales have scaled back production significantly with White Horse, for example, cutting back brewing from daily to only once a week. Tap Social, however, plans to re-open its tap room in Botley over the weekend of December 4-6, serving substantial meals provided by some of the independent food vendors it has been working with.

Apart from the rule that pubs can only re-open if they serve substantial meals, most of the previous rules remain the same except that the 10pm curfew has been abolished and household mixing in pubs is banned—even over Christmas itself when social mixing rules generally are being relaxed. Last orders will be at 10pm allowing an hour to drink up and leave the premises – meaning kitchens may stay open later and probably a rush to order several drinks before 10pm, then having a slow meal thereafter if the pub allows it.

CAMRA National Chairman Nik Antona said: “This is especially devastating in the run-up to Christmas as those in Tier 2 areas won’t be able to visit to socialise safely with those outside of their household – which will increase feelings of loneliness and social isolation after a year that has been tough for many.  

“CAMRA has been clear – we do not think that evidence has been produced to justify extra restrictions on hospitality, and particularly wet-led pubs, but if the Government wants to proceed, they must announce more financial help. It is really very simple – hospitality businesses have been singled out for extra restrictions, so they must be given dedicated support.  

Hook Norton brewery in north Oxfordshire

“This needs to take the form of increased grant funding to cover rent and costs, and include an extension to the business rates holiday, and an extension of the VAT cut to alcoholic drinks. This is vital to ensure that communities will have locals to return to in 2021, and can once again reap the social and wellbeing benefits of pub–going.”

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), representing all the major chains and breweries, reckons that many will not re-open for the time being even though they serve food, as the reduced capacity makes it not worthwhile. Worryingly, a BBPA survey found that 72% of pubs would be unviable under the Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions which cover 99% of England’s population.

A survey of its members, with 22,500 venues across the UK, reveals that only 1% had been linked by NHS Test and Trace. It reckons that 30,000 pubs – four in five pubs in England – will be made unviable by the latest restrictions, and expects over two-thirds of pubs in Tier 2 regions to remain closed.

Please write to your MP in protest by clicking here.