Trade reaction to latest lockdown

Relief that takeaway is allowed but fears for future without long-term support

The pub and brewery trade has welcomed a climb-down by the Government to allow takeaway sales of alcohol, but with more restrictions than during the first lockdown when pubs were closed from late March to early July.

It has also welcomed the Chancellor’s extension of the furlough scheme, paying 80% of laid-off workers’ wages until March. But this may not stave off the grim situation facing pubs, with predictions that up to 12,000 may close permanently.

The new restrictions on takeaway – explained in our post ‘Lowdown on lockdown: How to support local breweries and pubs’ – are the result of people not observing the spirit of the rules last time, according to Hook Norton head brewer and managing director, James Clarke.

A CAMRA image of happy drinkers in a pub garden: not allowed, even with takeaway

“Unfortunately a few pubs, mainly in London, sold beer in pint plastic glasses with a lid on (just like at the Rugby), and this was clearly not in the spirit of the guidance,” he said. “It does feel like as a nation, a lot of people have not followed guidance and got us in this mess.  Government messaging has been poor, and the Dominic Cummings debacle didn’t help, but we know it is hands, face and space. 

“All the pubs I have been in have done an amazing job to become Covid-secure. Transmission in hospitality venues was less than 3%, so closing pubs will not have any impact – which is a worry for when this lockdown is reviewed in December. This is the biggest existential threat in our 171 years.”

It looks like many pubs that provided delivery or takeaway in the first lockdown will do so again, but pre-ordering is essential and pubs could be held responsible if drinkers congregate outside their premises. But while we have to salute their entrepreneurial spirit and determination to serve their communities, there is no understating the scale of the challenges they still face.

Last hurrah at the Royal Blenheim as staff and CAMRA members mark the end (for now) of trading on November 4

The trade, and CAMRA, are united in calling for a long-term package of support that goes beyond the extension of furlough. One new demand is that pubs and breweries should be compensated for an estimated 7.5 million gallons of beer that will have to be poured away during this lockdown, but at least this is only a fraction of the estimated 70 million pints of beer wasted during the first period of enforced closure. This time around, most pubs had already restricted their stocks because of low demand and uncertainty over whether another lockdown would happen.

Trade bodies united to demand that takeaway be allowed to continue, with CAMRA instigating a flurry of emails from members to their MPs on Monday November 2, when the restrictions were discussed in Parliament. The published guidance, which came out the following day, was more sympathetic than originally feared.

Queen Street, Oxford at 9am during the first lockdown

CAMRA’s National Chairman, Nik Antona, said on Tuesday: “I am delighted that the Government has listened to the concerns of thousands of CAMRA members, concerned pub-goers, and beer lovers who have emailed their MPs in the last 48 hours urging the Government to allow pubs and breweries to sell alcohol as takeaway during the second lockdown.

“CAMRA continues to call on the Government to bring in a comprehensive, long-term financial support package to support all pubs and breweries through the lockdown and the tough months that will follow this winter. Without a sector-specific support package, we risk seeing thousands of pubs and breweries closing their doors for good.”

Neil Walker, Head of Comms for independent brewers association SIBA, said: “With 80% of beer from small independent brewers heading to pubs, we would like to thank the Government for their flexibility in allowing pubs to sell takeaway beer in a Covid-safe and practical manner via pre-orders.

“Extension of furlough was only one of the asks from SIBA and other trade bodies – with grants for basic running costs for all pubs and breweries, extension of business rate cuts to breweries, a VAT cut on beer, compensation for beer destruction and big action on beer duty all being ignored. SIBA, and other trade bodies, will continue to campaign for a full, six-month package of measures for breweries, pubs and hospitality.”

The British Beer and Pubs Association welcomed the extension of furlough, while warning that 12,000 pubs – nearly a third of the total – were at risk. With the current lockdown ending on December 2 likely to be replaced by a similar tiered system of local lockdowns to before, it calls for this to be “effective, proportionate and fair”.

Chief Executive Emma McClarkin said: “We are still on a knife-edge. Over 90% of fully Covid-secure, hospitality and pub businesses are operating at a loss, and thousands of otherwise viable businesses in Tier 3 and Tier 2 areas had already closed. Debt continues to build to unsustainable levels and turnover is at a fraction of normal trading. We are entering this next phase of national lockdown in a critically vulnerable position.”