Campaign for Pubs
Publicans facing mental health crisis due to uncertainty over reopening and inadequate support: Campaign for Pubs writes to the Prime Minister
The letter, sent in advance of the announcement on Monday, 22nd February about the Government plans and ‘roadmap’ for reopening businesses, lays out the stark reality for publicans, already facing months with no trade and inadequate support for mounting costs and debts. The letter also lays out a 9 point plan of what the Government needs to do, to save the nation’s pubs and allow them to survive and get back on their feet.
Many pubs have now been closed for months under the winter restrictions and lockdowns, and all pubs have been closed for a very large proportion of the past year. Despite Ministers saying that there has been “unprecedented support” for hospitality, the reality is that the Government has not provided anything more than a small proportion of income actually lost due to being forced to close or operate under restrictions.
The letter urges the Government to understand and to address the looming mental health crisis in the sector, with many publicans, brewers and other suppliers facing not just financial loss but in some cases, the entire loss of their businesses, even in cases where that business has been run successfully for many years. Many of those now facing bankruptcy are also on the verge of breakdown, following months of uncertainty, hardship and stress. The compensation from the government for forcibly closing pubs does not actually cover bills and ongoing costs, especially rent, and as a result does not actually provide any income support for publicans and their families, and most certainly does not adequately make up for lost trade. The reality for many publicans is rising levels of debt, running into tens of thousands of pounds, including for some the burden of unpayable deferred rent bills. In the best-case scenarios, many publicans with savings and reserves are close to exhausting them. Publicans also now have the additional significant worries of looming bills for deferred VAT and approaching deadlines to start paying back Covid Bounce Back Loans, which at the moment are due before it is being suggested pubs can even open again.
The letter also urges certainty over when pubs can reopen indoors with household mixing and no curfew or restriction on dining. This happened safely last summer without a vaccine, so the Government should allow this as soon as a suitable level of vaccinations has been achieved. The Campaign for Pubs is increasingly concerned at the way it is being suggested, without evidence, that pubs must be the last places to open because they’re “not safe”, when the evidence simply doesn’t justify that narrative. Indeed, the evidence has shown that well-run pubs are safer than other, less regulated environments. Last year, well-run pubs showed that they can operate at least as safely as non-essential retail, and so the Campaign for Pubs believes that pubs should be allowed to open at the same time as shops and other businesses and that the Government must now make clear, evidence-based decisions and not continue to scapegoat pubs when they have not been identified as a major source of infection. The Campaign stresses that as well as the need to tackle Covid-19, which the Campaign for Pubs strongly supports, the Government must also factor in to its strategy the devasting impact that lockdowns and restrictions have had on Britain’s communities, and particularly its publicans and their families, in terms of mental and physical health as well as livelihoods.
So, in its following of data, including vaccination levels, the Government must also factor the ongoing impact of closure of pubs and other businesses on the people that rely on them. The longer pubs are banned from opening, the more families will face serious hardship and the more communities will see their local pubs closed for good. If the Government decides to keep pubs closed, they must provide adequate support as part of any ongoing strategy for all pubs and for businesses relying on pubs. That must form part of any decision-making process in assessing the costs (including to the exchequer) of keeping pubs closed.
The Campaign for Pubs is calling for the Government to adopt the following 9 point plan, to save pubs and allow them to get back on their feet after so many months without trade:
- A clear ‘roadmap’ with dates of when pubs can reopen indoors, with minimal restrictions, with household mixing, and 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 indoors, with household mixing, no curfew and no requirement that customers must dine).
- 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 takeaway/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 & other suppliers, whose businesses are threatened by pubs being closed.
- Cancellation of the proposed changes to Small Brewers’ Beer Duty Rate Relief (SBR) that will damage and potentially close many small independent breweries just at the moment they will actually need help to recover from the pandemic.
The letter also makes clear that outdoor-only opening is simply not viable for the vast majority of pubs, and warns that businesses must not lose necessary ongoing support under such measures. This is backed up by a survey of publicans carried out by the Campaign for Pubs.
The survey of publicans in England and Wales showed that, as a whole, 87.5% of publicans said they would not be profitable with outdoor opening only, with 5% saying they ‘might break even’ and only 7.5% expecting to make any profit. In Wales, where pubs did have a month of outside-only trading last July, a huge 93.5% of licensees said they would not be profitable (compared to just 6.5% who believed they would). The weather in April, when it is currently speculated that pubs might open outdoors only, is likely to be significantly worse than in July last year when the majority of Welsh publicans still found that outdoor only opening was unviable.
So the Campaign is urging the Government to understand that outdoor-only opening does not allow most pubs to trade viably (or at all, for the many thousands with little or no outdoor space) and so ongoing adequate support, at the same level as when pubs are closed, would be required if any such decision or phase is included in the ‘roadmap’. Instead, Campaign for Pubs is urging the Prime Minister and Government to listen and support and indeed save our nation’s pubs and breweries and to announce when we can see pubs reopening as pubs, and when our brewers can get Britain brewing again and clearly announce adequate support until this happens.
Greg Mulholland, Campaign Director for the Campaign for Pubs said:
“This is a very anxious time for the nation’s pubs and publicans, already facing months with no trade and inadequate support for mounting costs and debts. There is a looming mental health crisis for publicans and their families, and the Government must now properly address this and factor it into its ongoing strategy.
“What we now need is certainty over when pubs can reopen indoors with household mixing and no curfew or restriction on dining. This happened safely last summer without a vaccine, so the Government surely needs to allow this once we get to a certain level of vaccinations and as soon as that is achieved.
“Furthermore, as well as following Covid data, including vaccination levels, the Government must also factor the ongoing impact of closure of pubs and other businesses on mental and physical health, as well as livelihoods. The longer that pubs are banned from opening, the more families will face serious hardship and the more communities will see their local pubs closed. So if the Government decides to keep pubs closed, they must provide adequate support as part of any ongoing strategy”.
Paul Crossman, Chair of the Campaign for Pubs and a licensee of three pubs said:
“The past year of uncertainty has been extremely hard on publicans and their families. Many thousands of our UK pubs are run by individuals or families working at the heart of their communities, running a business which is also their home. These people do not have the reserves of large organisations to fall back on, and indeed many have continued to face significant financial demands from big business landlords and suppliers while being unable to trade.
“The Government must take steps to protect the welfare of those working in these local businesses, and that have faced such challenges under the pandemic. Local pubs provide valuable employment and contribute significant revenue to the economy and the Exchequer, whilst also providing an important social service by facilitating social cohesion and combatting isolation. Our communities value their pubs and need them to survive. Publicans need to understand how and when the Government plans to allow pubs to reopen, and they deserve to be reassured that there will be proper ongoing support until that point is reached”.
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