Pubs need support now and inclusion for their future

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Having relaunched a pub in Brighton during the election, watching it grow into a successful community pub then suddenly falling complete silent has been an absolute roller-coaster of emotions. Not seeing your regulars every day is a weird feeling and not knowing when those doors will open again leaves me anxious for the future of the industry.

I’m a lucky one though, my parent pub company have been incredibly supportive and with their help and the coronavirus retention scheme, I’ve been able to continue paying 100% of my staffs’ wages. But for lots of publicans this is not the case.

Some of the big Pub Co’s are still collecting extortionate rents from their tenants, even though there has been zero footfall through the doors. Pubs with higher rateable values are exempt from grants. Bank loans are little to none in the hospitality sector and seasonal staff will be significantly worse off with the summer season limited. All these issues need addressing urgently, if we want pubs to be there able and ready for when we can enjoy that much anticipated pint with our friends again.

On top of those immediate concerns, as the data begins to suggest that we are passing through the peak of the pandemic, lots of people have been asking when their locals will reopen. There is no doubt that pubs will be amongst the last businesses to reopen and rightly so. Large crowds, hand hygiene, close contacts… the risks need not saying. But there was an article on Tuesday in the Daily Mail, that suggested advice was being given to the government about limiting pints and venue capacity. Eyal Winter, the economist named in the Daily Mail article has clearly not spoken to leading industry bodies or any publicans themselves.

Limiting the amount people can drink will inevitably lead to pub crawls, which is obviously not ideal in post-pandemic scenarios nor is it for controlling behaviour at a time when emergency services are stretched.

Limiting capacity? If the Coronavirus Retention Scheme is withdrawn because pubs can open but capacity is restricted, publicans like myself will have to face the realities of redundancies. It goes without saying that publicans will want to avoid that situation at all costs. Lower capacity will instantly result in lower income, so if there are capacity restrictions, we need to secure assurances that the Coronavirus Retention Scheme will remain in place until it is safe to bring capacity back up to business sustainable levels.

Revising opening hours down on weekdays and weekends, cancelling large gigs and quizzes, these kinds of measures could be enforceable and reasonable.

This is the biggest challenge hospitality has ever faced, one that we can all get through with the right support, planning and inclusion now. Working together we can and will keep our staff and customers safe, but failure to engage will undoubtedly leave pubs emerging out of this frying pan and straight into a fire.

* Ben Thomas was the parliamentary candidate for Brighton Kemptown in 2019. He is a local pub manager and member of the Brighton & Hove executive.

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  • John Marriott 1st May '20 - 5:01pm

    You might have to await the arrival of an effective vaccine before pubs can reopen. Better hope that this is sooner rather than later. Otherwise, everything else, especially limiting numbers of customers, will probably not be profitable, especially for the brewers of real ale, which doesn’t keep for long. Moving to more bottled beer might help in this respect, as well as not propping up the bar.

    You have my sympathy, Ben, as does one of the sons in law of an old friend, a chef, who was due to open his own restaurant in Cheltenham next month!

  • R A Underhill 1st May '20 - 6:26pm

    Two important criteria are omitted

  • R A Underhill 1st May '20 - 6:29pm

    1) Are you with Wetherspoons?
    2) where do you stand on real ale (the preservation of beer from the wood)?

  • R A Underhill 1st May ’20 – 6:29pm…..

    I know the question wasn’t addressed to me but…

    1) Are you with Wetherspoons?
    I have only been to one Wetherspoons; the carpet tried to suck me down..

    2) where do you stand on real ale (the preservation of beer from the wood)?

    I’m all in favour,,Although I was a founder member of CAMRA I now consider them a waste of time, space and money.

  • One of the main problems that many businesses will face as the lockdown is eased is that demand will not rise sufficiently quickly to allow all existing staff to continue to be employed. Small businesses may have long-serving employees and will be unable to afford redundancy payments which will therefore force them into liquidation when with a reduced workforce they may have been viable. The Party needs to be calling on the Government to come up with a scheme that allows companies to either continue to furlough some of their employees until demand picks up again, or to finance the redundancy payments itself, perhaps with a subsequent tax surcharge if demand returns to previous levels.

  • Could allowing them to re-open just for bar meals (with limited numbers allowed in at any one time) but not for those who just want to drink be an option initially?

  • “?There is no doubt that pubs will be amongst the last businesses to reopen and rightly so.”?
    The pub in a neighboring village has ‘reopened’. They got their heads around what they could do and redefined what ‘reopen’ meant in the post-CoVid19 world. In their case, adopting some of the philosophy of “the pub is the hub” and utilising their restaurant kitchens to provide home delivery of hot food and drink.
    Only time will tell whether this is a long-term sustainable business model or not, but they are not closed.

    The only problem is having a pub meal at home, is getting yourself into the mode/mindset of having a meal out when you are at home.

    The capacity restriction is hitting everyone. A local third-sector organisation that used to deliver services to circa 50 vulnerable adults in each of its centres, is currently looking at potentially being able to serve 20 in a much more structured/regimented environment.

  • Hilton Marlton 2nd May '20 - 9:19am

    Once the UK has credible and large scale testing capacity, there could be an argument that pubs, restaurants and cafes could reopen with some element of track-and-trace. Not very palatable to liberals, but perhaps worth it for a sociable pint/coffee/cake. I have no objection to a non-governmental organisation running an app based tracing scheme. Anyone with a mobile phone in their pocket is being traced every minute of the day anyway. How many of us have health checker apps doing just that already?

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