UK pub owners are “angry” with the government, as more than 1,000 publicans signed an open letter to Rishi Sunak pleading for more government support and to rethink the 10pm curfews.
In the letter organised by grassroots organisation Campaign for Pubs, owners accused Sunak of “scapegoating pubs” and “ignoring the needs of pubs, publicans, staff and their families” in his Winter Economy Plan.
In September, the government’s announced that all businesses in the sector, including pubs, bars and restaurants can offer table service only and must close at 10pm, after UK coronavirus cases spiked.
Campaign for Pubs said owners signed the letter because there is “real anger among licensees about the 10pm curfew, which has no scientific basis, but which makes it impossible for some pubs reliant on Friday and Saturday night trade to operate profitably.”
Members are seeking an urgent package of support from the government, warning that if Sunak doesn’t listen to their calls that “he and the government will be directly responsible for mass pub closures, job losses and hardship among thousands of families reliant on the pub trade.”
The letter calls for:
5% (or even better zero) VAT on all sales in pubs
Grants to cover full costs if pubs cannot viably trade with the current restrictions and have to close temporarily
A business rates holiday extension, with a complete overhaul for business rates for pubs prior to recommencing
A statutory right to an immediate rent review for all pubs, to tackle the fact many pubs are facing wholly unreasonable rent levels, considering the government restrictions and reduced trade
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The signatures coincide with the second weekend of pubs operating with the new COVID-19 restrictions.
Pub owners across the country reported a “60% to 70%” drop in trade, with many members telling Campaign for Pubs that Friday 2 October was “the worst Friday ever.”
One member said: “I don’t even want to talk about how soul-destroying last night was.”
“I’m 25% down from my break-even point for the second week in a row can’t carry losses for too much longer will have to make some decisions Monday,” another pub owner added.
Chair of the Campaign for Pubs and licensee of 3 pubs in York, Paul Crossman, said: “1,000 publicans up and down the country have now signed our open letter calling on the government to urgently support pubs and review the questionable recent restrictions.
“These latest measures have consigned thousands of pubs and other hospitality venues to a nightmarish limbo. Pubs that are normally perfectly viable, and that contribute enormously to the economy and the public purse, not to mention the wellbeing of their communities, have been rendered non-viable overnight.
“It is clearly unreasonable for them to be expected to continue trading at a loss with no help from the government whose own restrictions have increased costs whilst reducing trade to an unsustainable level.
“Most pubs are very small businesses that have worked very hard and invested heavily in order to be part of the solution to the COVID-19 crisis, something which was working well according to the government’s own evidence.
There is real concern that recent measures have actually reduced the safety of customers and staff, and so may be imperilling the businesses of now desperate publicans for no good reason. Support for our businesses and employees is now crucial, and an immediate review of the measures is essential.”
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On Friday a separate report warned that Britain’s economy is set to lose £7bn ($9bn) and a quarter of pubs are likely to close due to coronavirus restrictions. It revealed that 11,750 bars face closure, putting 290,000 jobs at risk, if COVID-19 curfew rules drag into next year.
Oxford Economics’ study found that 78% of pubs are operating at under three-quarter capacity, leading to calls from the industry for more support from the government. It predicted that hospitality sector employment could fall by a third as beer sales slump by 15%.
Chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, Emma McClarkin, told The Times: “It’s important to remember that outside of the current circumstances our sector is a thriving one and when this epidemic ends it will be key to driving the economic bounce back we will need. For that to happen though the government must invest in it now to ensure it’s still here to play that role.”
McClarkin wrote to ministers to urge them to extend the March deadlines of the VAT cut, business rates holiday for the hospitality industry as well as cut in beer duty.