The beer and pub sector has today urged the prime minister to help the Great British pub re-open as soon as possible.
It says pubs need to re-open as soon as it is safe to do so in order to provide a safe place for people to socialise and drink in, as well as connect as a community once more.
As the heart of communities across the UK, they say pubs have a vital role to play as community support centres, particularly as the country recovers from covid-19 and comes out of lockdown.
The call comes from the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA). The sector has been one of the most adversely affected by covid-19 and the lockdowns. In 2020 alone, a combination of restrictions on trade and lockdowns saw sales of beer in pubs plummet by 56% — a decrease of £7.8 billion.
Tens of thousands of pubs are operated as small family businesses, which also double up as a home, meaning that despite being successful businesses for decades, pubs could close and many could become homeless through no fault of their own.
The restrictions and closure of pubs has had an adverse effect on communities across the UK, too, with many losing their heart of the community and social hub.
Despite this, pubs have still endeavoured to support their local communities where possible through a range of innovations and initiatives. These include virtual pub quizzes, virtual meet and greets, and even cooking and supplying food to those most vulnerable.
Ahead of the prime minister’s speech on Monday, the beer and pub industry has been vocal on the need for pubs to re-open alongside non-essential retail once the most vulnerable in society have been vaccinated.
It points out that opening pubs outdoors only is not a viable solution because 60% of pubs in the UK — some 29,000 — would still not be able to open, with countless more likely unable to break even in trade even if they were to re-open.
BBPA chief executive, Emma McClarkin, said: “Lockdown has undoubtedly had a significant impact on the wellbeing and mental health of all of us. Our pubs can play a leading role in bringing us back together once more, safely, in a controlled and regulated environment.
“As a community support centre, our sector is part of the solution in fighting this virus. I urge the prime minister to do all he can to keep the doors open of the Great British Pub ahead of announcing his roadmap.”
Supporting the BBPA, Elaine Hindal, chief executive of Drinkaware, said: “Lockdown has been a challenge for everyone, and our research has indicated in the early stages of the pandemic (late March to June), when lockdown restrictions were at their height, 26% of all drinkers reported drinking more at home than normal. As restrictions eased, and people were able to get out and about, this fell to 15%.
“We are particularly concerned for people who already drank at ‘higher risk’ levels pre-pandemic and who have increased their drinking still more throughout lockdown. Almost half of these drinkers drink at home alone at least weekly, and drink to cope with stress and anxiety or to relieve boredom, or simply for something to do.
“For these drinkers, pubs provide a safer and regulated place in which to enjoy a drink in moderation, and an important opportunity to be with others in a socially-distanced and safe setting. Pubs re-opening once more have a key role to play in encouraging and ensuring moderate drinking.”
And Christian Wakeford, MP for Bury South, and chair of the all-party Parliamentary group on alcohol harm, added: “Pubs are the absolute heart of our communities, creating jobs and helping to tackle loneliness and social isolation. The hospitality industry has been severely impacted by the effects of the lockdown, and we need to ensure that pubs and restaurants can re-open in a safe manner and bring back their staff as we emerge from the lockdown.”
Separately, the Campaign for Pubs has also written to the prime minister, making similar points about looking financial and mental health crises. It adds a nine-point plan, showing what the government should do.
The nine-point plan
- A clear ‘roadmap’ with dates of when pubs can re-open indoors, with minimal restrictions, with household mixing, with no requirement to dine, and no curfews.
- Announce a proper ongoing package of support until then, including grants paid, on a monthly/weekly basis (until pubs are able to open as per the first point).
- Announce that deferred VAT bills can be deferred for a further year, and that bounce back loan repayments will not start until trade is back to normal.
- Pubs should be allowed to offer take-away/click-and-collect beer and other alcoholic drinks, as supermarkets and off-licensees continue to be allowed to do. This needs to happen immediately.
- Urgently announce a statutory rent code, including the statutory right to a rent review, to stop unreasonable rents that do not reflect trading conditions and have not taken into account loss of trade through closures and restrictions. The campaign has raised this issue repeatedly, but so far this has simply been ignored, and indebted publicans and others are still being fobbed off with a voluntary code of practice for covid rent that many pub owners and other commercial landlords are still openly ignoring with impunity.
- A continuation of the business rates holiday in 2021/22 for pubs.
- VAT of 5% on all pub/hospitality sales, including on all drinks, to support all pubs. This must not be on food/accommodation only, or it discriminates and disadvantages wet-led pubs, traditional community locals, and micropubs and taprooms (and yet provides a huge amount of tax relief to multinational fast-food chains who do not need it).
- A tailored package of support, including business rates relief for small brewers and other suppliers, whose businesses are threatened by pubs being closed.
- Cancellation of the proposed changes to small brewers’ beer duty rate relief, that will damage and potentially close many small independent breweries just at the moment they will actually need help to recover from the pandemic.