Coronavirus update and industry reaction: PM urges public to ‘avoid’ pubs, bars and restaurants

Last night the prime minister issued new recommendations to try to slow the spread of coronavirus – one of which to “avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues”.

Those working within the on-trade are outraged as no support has been offered. Premises have not been forced to close, which would ensure some financial protection.

It is hoped that the Government will announce a set of measures to protect the industry later this afternoon.

Commenting on the Government’s latest advice, UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls said:

“This is catastrophic for businesses and jobs. The government has effectively shut the hospitality industry without any support, and this announcement will lead to thousands of businesses closing their doors for good, and hundreds of thousands of job losses.

“Over the past few weeks the industry has suffered unprecedented drops in visits and many business are already on their knees. This latest advice leaves the industry in limbo, with no recourse to insurance.

“The Government must act now to stop them going under and protect the people’s jobs. These venues play a unique role as community hubs and it’s in all our interests to protect and preserve them so they are still there once we emerge from this crisis.

“We need immediate and far-reaching support from the government, and meaningful business continuity measures.”

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said:

“The severity of the Covid-19 crisis is now impacting on pubs with devastating effect. The very existence of thousands of pubs and a lot more jobs is now at risk.

“The government needs to give clear instructions and detail on the support package to rescue the sector and hundreds of thousands of jobs.

“Urgent measures to support cash flows and enable cost reductions is an absolute necessity. Government action now will save thousands of jobs and save our pubs.

“Support for pubs now is an investment in the long-term future of communities across the UK without it we risk losing our community assets forever.”

The British Beer & Pub Association has sent a letter to the Prime Minister, stating how the UK Pub Industry will be lost in days without immediate, decisive government action (see below).

Dear Prime Minister,

UK Pub Industry will be lost in days without immediate, decisive government action

The UK pub and brewing industry is tonight facing an existential crisis as a direct result of the guidance issued by the government today. Thousands of pubs and hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost in the very short term unless a proactive package creating cash and liquidity is provided immediately to the industry.

Today’s Government guidance advising that people avoid pubs did not provide any form of advice or clarity on how the industry should respond. This is unhelpful in the extreme. At the same time the absence of any financial commitment to stand behind all businesses including small community pubs is creating panic with people being fearful that their livelihoods will be destroyed.

We urgently require more clarity from the Government. The Government’s advice without the required clear directive impacts on both the safety of the general public and all employees.

Forced pub closures without a meaningful support package will have a catastrophic financial and social impact.

Pubs are the heart of the community and the social hub in all towns, villages and cities across the UK. The sector supports almost a million jobs across the country, many in less affluent areas. These jobs are in imminent danger, companies will be required to act this week regarding redundancies. The social and economic value that the sector provides to the UK is under existential threat.

The announcements in the Budget last week are now irrelevant in the context of the challenges the industry faces tonight. In order that our sector can confront this devastating scenario, we would ask that the Government takes the following actions immediately as a matter of urgency in order to prevent mass job losses and permanent pub closures:

• The cancellation of all business rates payments for a period of six months, as well as all HMRC tax payments, including PAYE, VAT and corporation tax for pubs/hospitality businesses
• Cancellation of beer duty payments for a period of six months
• Ensure banks are encouraged to extend credit lines and favourable-terms loan payment holidays to keep businesses afloat/pay wages
• Put in place a temporary redundancy scheme in which, as in the Danish system, the Government commits to supporting 75% of the wages of those made redundant for a defined period
• In the medium term, explore the viability of a substantial VAT cut for a period of time in order to drive trade back to the hospitality sector
• Postponement of the planned National Minimum Wage/National Living Wage increase due in April in order to ease pressure on cash-flows

I cannot emphasise strongly enough how critical it is that action is taken now. Failure to do so will destroy the industry and measures taken to support these businesses should be seen as an investment in securing the future of urban and rural communities across the country as the British Pub remains at the heart of social cohesion.

The industry is already working closely with their own managed house teams and their tenants to provide additional support where possible but there is a limit to what they can do, and they do not have the resources that will be required. Hence the urgent need for all of the support that is outlined above to be provided now.

It is critically important that the industry is now closely consulted on any further decisions taken that impact pubs. In light of today’s announcement please can you arrange for a member of your team to contact me urgently on to confirm what measures will be put in place to back up your commitment made in the government press conference this evening to help our industry at this desperate time.

Yours sincerely

Emma McClarkin
Chief executive

Many UK operators are vowing to fight their way through the crisis, with some introducing new measures and innovations, such as delivery services for customers, to help with business over the coming weeks.

Signature Brew co-founder Sam McGregor said:

“Our Blackhorse Beer Mile brewery bar, our burger bar, The Collab, in Walthamstow and our Taproom in Haggerston have seen lots of support from locals over the past few weeks, we want beer lovers to continue to support their local venues and shops as best they can during an unusual time, in line with government guidance; we’re chatting to our pub and venue stockists to support them in whatever ways we can; we will be launching Click & Collect options from all of our venues across Hackney and Waltham Forest for anyone concerned about social distancing.

“We’re also going to be launching ‘The Pub in a Box’ for those who have been asked to self isolate, it’ll include our core range of beers (something for everyone), beer glasses, beer mats, a vinyl record, a pub quiz, a playlist, pub snacks, the works!

“We think it’s best to remain calm, carry on with life, support local and to support artists however we can, without being alarmist but with a good eye on what the powers that be, advise us to do. We’re planning one hell of a piss–up in a brewery when all of this blows over.”

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