The majority of pubs in England will be able to re-open indoors for drinks and food from 17th May at the earliest, prime minister Boris Johnson has announced. The rule of six will apply.

beer pint glasses

Pubs will be able to open for outdoor service only from 12th April, at the same time as non-essential retail. There’s no mention in the official government document, though, of venues being able to offer take-away beer.

The prime minister said the dates set out for a staged re-opening of the economy and activities, would be subject to review. The stages would be at five-week intervals, from schools re-opening on 8th March. The next stage would only take previous when the previous stage had proved successful. “Our decisions will be led by data, not dates,” said Johnson.

The five weeks would comprise four weeks of compiling data, and one week giving people notice of the next stage. Progress would also be dependent on each stage passing four tests:

  • The vaccine deployment programme continues successfully
  • Evidence shows vaccines are sufficiently effective in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in those vaccinated
  • Infection rates do not risk a surge in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS
  • The government’s assessment of the risks is not fundamentally changed by new variants of concern

The view from SIBA

James Calder, chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers, said: “Under the Prime Minister’s roadmap published today, many small breweries and community pubs are now destined to fail, just as the vaccination programme should be providing hope and optimism. These businesses face an agonising ten days, given they will only survive if the chancellor announces significant and immediate financial support next week. 
 
“Although it is welcome that nonsense restrictions like the 10pm curfew and substantial meal have been dropped as part of steps two and three of the plan, the vast majority of pubs simply do not have the outdoor space or facilities needed to operate viably and profitably in April.

“We know many wet-led pubs and craft beer bars will struggle to operate profitably with table service only, indoor or outdoor. Whilst take-away beer from 12th April will help our members, it has only ever been a trickle and is no replacement for a swift and simple re-opening. 

“17th May, when pubs might be allowed to welcome indoor patrons, is 84 days away. In that time the average independent brewery will burn through around £12,500, even with pubs partially open. We need to see brewery grants of between £10k and £30k, based on their size, as introduced in Scotland. 

“Whilst it is welcome that every adult will be offered a jab by the end of July, we want to encourage the government to priority vaccinate hospitality workers, once the top nine groups are completed. 

“It is greatly concerning that ministers are now considering ‘covid status certification’, otherwise known as vaccine passports, after weeks of stating that they would not be required to access hospitality.”

The view from CAMRA

Campaign for Real Ale 9CAMRA) chairman, Nik Antona, said: “While we understand the government’s cautious approach, this will nonetheless be a disappointing announcement for the beer and pub industry, which looks set to be the last to be allowed to properly re-open.

“We know that pubs aren’t vectors for transmission, so ministers must publish the full evidence behind applying restrictions on pubs when the likes of non-essential retail will be able to fully open up sooner and without restrictions.  

“Whilst scrapping the curfew and substantial meal requirement is welcome, only permitting pubs to operate using outside space at first, and then inside using table service only, isn’t a proper re-opening. Two-thirds of pubs could stay closed during the outdoor-only trading period, with many more likely to struggle without being able to trade at full capacity while the table-service-only requirement remains. 

“The prime minister’s commitment to continue financial support is welcome, but as a result of this roadmap next week’s Budget is more vital than ever. First and foremost, pubs, breweries, and the wider supply chain desperately need ongoing financial support not only for the next few weeks but for as long as pubs are operating at a reduced trade. 

“The Budget must also include an extension to furlough and the business rates holiday, a reduction in VAT for on trade alcohol sales as well as food, and cutting duty for beer served in pubs to help them compete with supermarkets.” 

The view from the Campaign for Pubs

Greg Mulholland, campaign director of the Campaign for Pubs, said: “Despite this being the third lockdown and with pubs having been closed for such a huge proportion of the last year, the government has still not given any certainty for publicans as to when they may be able to finally, properly, open their pubs again, which is disastrous for their businesses but also for mental health.

“We all accept the need to control the spread of covid until vaccinations reach a certain level, but the government keeps moving the goalposts and it’s pubs that are being hardest hit by that. It’s disappointing that today’s announcement was made without any indication of what further support will be provided for pubs to get them through this crisis.

“The Chancellor must announce this as soon as possible and before the Budget and it must be adequate or there will be many publicans who just won’t be able to continue racking up debts and pubs will start to close.”

Dawn Hopkins, vice-chair of the campaign and a Norwich publican, said: “Publicans are dismayed that, yet again, this government doesn’t seem to understand the reality of the desperate situation for so many publicans, with months without income and, for many, mounting debt. Outdoor opening is simply not viable for the vast majority of pubs, so grants must be continued until pubs can open properly again, indoors and without unnecessary rules.

“The government needs to urgently announce a proper package of support to get pubs through this crisis, or it will go down in history as the government that destroyed the Great British pub.”

The view from the BBPA

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “Whilst we have received earliest possible dates for re-opening, our sector will continue to face severe restrictions that limit their business and stop them from being viable. The reality is debt is mounting and many pubs simply won’t be able to hold out to April or May and will close for good before any door gets open.

“Outdoor service only from 12th April will likely mean that three in five pubs across the UK will remain closed. That’s 29,000 pubs still not able to open either because they don’t have any outdoor space or simply because they will not be commercially sustainable. Because of this, the majority of pubs will not re-open until 17th May at the earliest, meaning that they will have been closed for almost eight months.

“It will mean just 17% of our pubs’ capacity will open from April. That will cost our sector £1.5 billion. The government must now plug that £1.5 billion hole for our sector with vital support in the Budget next week if thousands of pubs are now to survive.  

“The prime minister said he will not pull the rug out and do whatever it takes. We will hold both him and the chancellor to this. Our sector will need more grant support until pubs can fully re-open, as well as furlough extended to save jobs for pubs not able to open in April. 

“Even when they open in May, pubs will need help on their long road to recovery through an extension of the VAT cut and business rates relief, as well as a beer duty cut. The recovery will take much longer than expected and we will need this support for 12 to 24 months. This support will need to be extended to brewers and supply chain partners who are relying on the timely reopening of pubs as they depend on them for trade.”

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