OPINION
04/12/2020 06:00 GMT | Updated 04/12/2020 09:11 GMT

Your Favourite Pub Won’t Survive The Covid Winter

Without better help, this pandemic will sound the death knell for the distinctive, historic local on the village green, writes Liz Hind.

To try and stave off a Tory revolt, Boris Johnson announced this week a £1,000 Christmas grant for wet-led pubs to try and show that he understands the effect of restrictions on businesses.

But instead of being thankful, publicans like me have reacted with anger. The paltry amount, the timing and the resentment at the way we have been vilified during the pandemic means we’ve taken the “gesture” as an insult, not a sign of caring.

Measures to control this virus are clearly needed, but we should be asking whether restricting what people do in pubs is even effective. The government’s published scientific advice on pubs references a Korean nightclub, and spread traced to gyms – hardly the most pertinent examples. 

Publicans running venues where people behave have a right to feel annoyed. The stipulation that punters must now have a substantial meal with their drinks is there because law makers think people are better behaved after food. I could tell them that an idiot is still an idiot even if they are full of pie and chips. 

 

Hugh Hastings via Getty Images
Customers enjoy their drinks next to a Christmas tree at the Chainlocker pub on December 2, 2020 in Falmouth, United Kingdom

For me, this measly Christmas grant has come as far too little, too late. I had to decide whether to open before the tiers were announced because I had to order beer. The extra money makes no difference to me, just as the extension of furlough made no difference to those already made redundant.

Now we head towards Christmas knowing the hardship is set to continue. Our trade in December will be hit hard, not just because of forced restrictions, but because people will have to choose between family, or going out over the festivities. It’s a double blow as we’re going to lose out on Christmas trade, and if there is a new year spike, we’re going to have to pay for the tighter restrictions in January too.

Earlier in the year, Rishi Sunak told restaurants and pubs that had to close we’d get £3,000 for our struggles. In reality, this figure will be much less for most of us because it is scaled down for tier level and rateable value, which is a poor indicator of running costs and of how many people are employed by the pub. I expect to get just £934.

Although Johnson’s extra £1,000 has been formally announced, I’ve become too used to disappointment to get excited. I still don’t know if I will qualify. And even if I get the full £1,000, it will still not be enough to cover all of my fixed costs. Yet another example of how little those in power understand about running a business.

The government is keen to stress that restrictions on pubs are far more lax in this country than France and Germany. But what they don’t say is how the support packages actually compensate for loss of trade. Distinctions between wet or food-led pubs are the most basic, and the extent to which a pub is affected will be very different. Tacking on extra measures that we may or may not qualify for is tinkering with a system that doesn’t work and isn’t fit for purpose. 

Many pub owners are part of the three million excluded for support because they are directors of limited companies. To run a pub, with all the liabilities and risks involved, you have to set up as a limited company and once you’ve done that it makes sense to pay yourself from that company as and when it can afford to do so. It Is also perfectly normal for the people running a pub to live above it. When we talk about pubs closing we are also talking about people losing their homes. It’s winter and we’re paying for the gas, our bills are more than domestic bills as not only are we paying commercial rates, but we have to heat a large building.

Gone will be the distinctive, historic pub on the village green to be replaced by luxury flats, and we will all be poorer for it.

This year has made us all re-evaluate what is meant by community and what social interactions are important. The pub undoubtedly has a place within that community. For a lot of regular customers we’re a second living room and the only place they can go for a friendly chat. We’re an important part of many people’s lives from hosting engagement parties, baby showers to wakes. Pubs offer food, entertainment and socialisation. It’s where we go to make friends and have a laugh. 

The pubs that will have been hit hardest of all are those that trade on providing a social space, the very definition of hospitality: welcome, friendly and warm.

A true community pub is a personality driven business, it is the front room of the landlady and landlord running it and is a reflection of them and their values. If they are driven out then the building will be snapped up by property developers and the soul of the place will be driven out with the owner.

Gone will be the distinctive, historic pub on the village green to be replaced by luxury flats, and we will all be poorer for it.

Liz Hind is a pub landlady based in Aylesbury.