24/11/2020 16:44 GMT | Updated 24/11/2020 16:49 GMT

Tiers For Beers: Lockdown Rules ‘Unfairly’ Single Out England's Pubs – Again

Hospitality venues are on their knees – and the government support scheme won't replace their lost earnings.

Pubs and bars say they are once again being forced to pay the highest price under coronavirus restrictions when the new tier system comes into operation next week.

The system will begin when lockdown ends on December 2 and is expected remain in place until the end of March.

Venues serving alcohol in tier 3 (the highest tier) will only be able to offer takeaway and delivery services, while indoor entertainment, hotels and other accommodation will close. In tier 2, hospitality must close unless it is operating as a restaurant and serving “substantial meals” with any alcoholic drink, while in tier 1 it will be table service only.

By contrast, non-essential retail and personal care – such as hairdressers and beauty salons – will remain open regardless of tier classification, which is reviewed fortnightly.

People sitting outside the Cock and Lion pub in Marylebone, London (file picture) 

In areas where hospitality venues are allowed to stay open, the 10pm curfew will be replaced with a last orders call at 10pm – but venues must close at 11pm.

Kate Nicholls, the CEO for UK Hospitality, told HuffPost UK that December is the month many venues make up to 25% of their yearly takings, and that without adequate support from the government, many face going out of business entirely. 

She said: “Clearly we were never going to earn that amount in a Covid situation with social distancing and other controls, but it seems particularly unfair that the restrictions have been tightened even further just on hospitality.

“Previously, the justification of restrictions on hospitality was that we needed to keep schools and education open. It now appears that hospitality is being asked to bear the burden of keeping the entire economy open.” 

Nicholls feels it is disproportionate that non-essential retail will remain open, along with visitor attractions and gyms, despite what tier they find themselves in. 

She said: “So we’ve been singled out.

“Not only that, you’ve also got a reopening of potential spreader events – live theatre, live music, business events, sports stadiums, up to potentially 4,000 people. Now, while the stadium might be able to accommodate it, there is going to be pressure on people getting to the stadium and getting through the front doors. You can’t socially distance altogether.”

UK Hospitality members recently responded to a survey which found that, under the previous (lesser) tier 2 rules, 74% said their businesses would not be viable without additional support. Those restrictions meant people were unable to meet socially with friends and families indoors in any setting unless they lived with them or had formed support bubbles with them.

This increased to 94% under the former tier 3 rules, in which all pubs and bars would have to close unless they were operating as restaurants and serving “substantial” meals – terms now present in tier 2.

Nicholls said: “So we have a very real issue here where we’re actually talking about business viability and business survivability. The industry is not going to be able to hibernate and shut down and restart again when we come out the other side. And at the moment, unfortunately, the level of support is not sufficient to offset that. If the industry is being singled out to bear the burden of restrictions, and to keep the disease under control, then it needs to be singled out for support to get them through this.”

UK Hospitality, along with the British Institute of Innkeeping and the British Beer & Pub Association are demanding an immediate, sector-specific extension of the Jobs Support Scheme with no employer contribution until all restrictions are lifted for all tiers.

They are also calling for government disruption grants to be made available to all venues across all tiers and for a review of any restrictions placed on venues to be conducted at least every three weeks. 

Support currently exists in the furlough scheme, which pays 80% of wages up to £2,500-a-month and was originally supposed to end in October, but will now continue until the end of March. Pub staff must be off work for a minimum of seven days to be eligible, but the tougher restrictions mean thousands of businesses will be left unable to survive unless they are allowed to reopen or trade more freely or are provided with realistic financial support. 

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of the Shepherd Neame pub group, described the restrictions as “devastating”.

“I think it is absolutely rotten that they have singled out hospitality in this way,” he told PA. “It makes me sick.

“I think restrictions should be loosened across all sectors, but to open new sectors again while imposing stricter measures on hospitality, despite no evidence to justify this, is completely maddening.”

Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, said: “Yet again, the UK pubs sector must pick itself up off the floor after another crushing blow.

“We’ve invested millions of pounds to make our pubs safe throughout this pandemic but today it feels like pubs have been unfairly singled out once again with increased restrictions that will make pubs across the country unviable through the most important month of the year.”

A landlady at a drinks-only pub in Shropshire said she thinks pubs are being “blamed for a rise in cases”.

“I love my pub and I’ve kept to every rule – screens at the bar, masks, table service, 10pm curfew – and nothing is good enough,” said Stephanie James, of The Bridge Pub in Ludlow.

“Why should you be able to have a pint with your steak and chips, but not just walk in [and] order a pint? Is there a real difference? Because the table service rule still applies if you do food or not.”

It comes as a government scientific adviser said there needs to be more focus on the way people mix inside homes rather than just blaming pubs for the spread of Covid-19.

Lucy Yardley, professor of health psychology at the University of Bristol and a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said people let their guard down in their own homes and cleaning is likely to be less rigorous than in places such as pubs.

She said evidence shows that people need to take more action to limit the spread of the virus “or we wouldn’t be in the lockdown at the moment”.

She added: “In fact, when people come together with people they know well in their homes it’s a particularly risky situation because they let their guard down.

“They spend a lot of time with them and that’s actually when the infection is most likely to spread.”

Asked by BBC Radio 4′s Today Programme whether there was too much focus on pubs and not enough on interactions in the home, she said: “I think that’s absolutely true and we can see that in the evidence because so much of the infection spread is happening at home.

“And it’s a lot to do with [...] not taking all the precautions that one actually does take when you go out to the pub.

“So, you know, the pubs are actually better ventilated and have more regular cleaning every hour going on than we do in our own homes.”

However, she did not say pubs are safe, adding: “Anywhere that people meet that they haven’t seen each other before is a place that you can get spread.

“And so, obviously, if you go to the pub then you go to see family members that you haven’t seen and stay with them for a couple of days, that’s the most dangerous situation of all.”