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Coronavirus: Don’t leave pubs and bars in “limbo”

Published:  17 March, 2020

The industry is galvanising its voices to urge the Prime Minister to take decisive action at this afternoon’s coronavirus briefing after pubs, bars and restaurants are left in “limbo” just as the outbreak looks set to take hold in the UK.

Restaurants and bars are hoping that today’s briefing will provide a stronger stance after PM Boris Johnson gave advice to the public to stay away from pubs and bars, but failed to give guidance on whether those pubs and bars should close, thus leaving a huge question mark around short-term cash flow and insurance.

This is leaving the trade in a moral quandary: whether to remain open and risk personal health, and the health of staff and customers, or to close and put the business and jobs at risk.

“We really need to see some drastic, extraordinary measures to financially support an industry that makes a massive contribution to the UK economy, and provides million jobs for younger people – often their first jobs,” Jonathan Downey, founder of the Match Bar Group, told BBC Radio 4 this morning.

“Bars, restaurants, cafes and clubs are crucial for social cohesion and community and we need to see some real support from the chancellor this afternoon.”

As the crisis deepens, many are looking to France.

French president Emmanuel Macron has guaranteed 300 billion euros of bank loans to support businesses during this turbulent time as well as allowing companies to delay paying their taxes and social security contributions.

“The lack of decisive instruction from the government leaves pubs in a limbo where customers will abandon them, but they’ll be unable to claim insurance or other support to help them survive. The government has not defined how long people should stay away from pubs, but be in no doubt, within a short time many pubs and breweries will close and never reopen to serve their communities,” Camra’s national chairman Nik Antona said today.

In the meantime, businesses are holding emergency meetings to discuss how best to deal with the extraordinary circumstances.

This morning, Ted Sandbach of The Oxford Wine Company told Harpers that while the company’s four shops will likely stay open, all part time staff have been terminated for the time being.

Pressure is also being put on the company’s two piano bars and wine café, where footfall has dropped drastically, but where high rents and business rates remain (and which do not fall under the discount granted at last week’s budget).

The new Sandy’s Piano Bar in Chelsea will “Probably close in London for three months”, he said. “It’s a nightmare.”

Diana Rollan, beverage manger at D&D Restaurants also confirmed the group has implemented safety procedures to minimise risk, while also putting a hiring freeze in place and staff reduction hours are in place “as sales across the group are declining”.

“With the number of Covid-19 cases increasing by the minute, we will be facing a devastating crisis that will affect hospitality business at all levels. There is an urgent need for the government to change laws and support the industry, with different policies not just only for business also for the staff, from rent payment exception for restaurants, tax relief, to support towards mortgages, rents payments,” Rollan said.

Some shops are also launching click and collect options to cope with social distancing.

Elsewhere, the industry has started a change petition calling for guidance and the provision of a safety net for businesses, rather than “putting the onus on consumers and business owners”.

You can sign the petition here.