COVID – the second lockdown and beyond

Hopefully, as you read this, the end of the second lockdown will be in sight. I did not think it worth listing the lockdown provisions at this stage but the following points are, I hope, of interest.

Once the second lockdown ends we will presumably return to some sort of tier system. Unusually for me, I will resist the temptation to make any tiers/tears puns. It has got beyond that.  Let us hope that the COVID laws and guidelines for pubs, which have arguably been the most complicated of them all, are properly clarified. On 21 October two senior police officers each told a Parliamentary committee that they did not know what restrictions were in place for which area because they all differed so much and, while some were the law, others were still guidelines. The next day, on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, a Government minister said that people didn’t need to know them all, just the ones where they lived, and that they could be found on a Government website. I think that this was the one that he was referring to: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus. What was on this website did however differ from what was eventually included in the ‘Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020’ but hopefully it will now have been updated. It is the regulations that have legal effect, not the website.

SAVE OUR PUBS

CAMRA is looking to the future with this campaign. National Chairman, Nik Antona, said, “The second lockdown is a devastating blow for an industry that is already on its knees. Pubs across the country have already invested thousands to reopen COVID-safe environments despite facing seriously reduced incomes. We need a clear route map out of lockdown which is based on evidence, otherwise we will see many pubs and breweries close their doors forever.”

CAMRA is asking its members to lobby their MPs to urge them to show support for the nation’s pubs and brewers. For obvious reasons, this is chiefly being conducted by e-mail.

This is what we are asking for:

• Announce the rules and regulations that pubs and clubs will be subject to when reopening on 3rd December well in advance;

• Recognise the wellbeing benefits of socialising in a local pub, especially for isolated or vulnerable people;

• Allow wet-led pubs to continue to trade, with necessary financial support, whatever restrictions apply;

• Review the damaging and counter-productive 10pm curfew;

• Ensure strong enforcement when rules are broken.

Longer term, we would also like to see:

• The continuation of the furlough scheme for as long as restrictions are in place which reduce trade and consumer confidence;

• A more sustainable round of grants for businesses to meet fixed costs whilst they are affected by restrictions;

• Compensation for breweries for unsold beer and returned stock;

• Extending the business rates holiday into 2021/22;

• Action on rents charged to tenants by pub owning businesses;

• The introduction of a lower rate of duty on draught beer, to help local pubs compete with cheap supermarket alcohol.

FINANCIAL ASSISTANCE

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, had already announced that the Job Support Scheme would replace the existing furlough arrangements from 1 November when he was overtaken by events and had to reinstate the furlough scheme, first to the end of the second lockdown and then to 31 March. The second extension came too late however to stop a number of redundancies that were already in process. Some companies chose not to return to the furlough scheme and opted to make staff redundant anyway.

One issue with Tier 2 was that although pubs could open, the regulations in force severely restricted their ability to trade. To help with this, Mr Sunak had also announced that cash grants of up to £2,100 per month would be available to what he described as ‘open but struggling’ businesses in the hospitality sector. Moreover, the grants would have been backdated to August. As before, the grants were to be administered by local authorities from funds provided by the Government.

OFF SALES AND TAKEAWAYS

I have covered the initially totally unsatisfactory restriction on pubs selling takeaway alcohol in the introduction, although I did not point out an anomaly. Takeaways of food and non-alcoholic drink do not need to be pre-ordered and can be collected from inside the pub whereas those for alcohol must be pre-ordered and the customer cannot enter the pub. I can only presume that the Government believes that if customers get into the pub they won’t leave. I also found it odd that the regulations included ‘post’ in the methods for placing orders, along with telephone, website, text and e-mail. One pub in north London simplified the procedure by installing a ‘phone by the door for customers to use to place their orders. The regulations do not specify how far away you have to be to place an order or how long you need to wait to collect it, just so long as it is pre-ordered. Overall, I think our pubs are to be admired for the way that they managed to organise a return to takeaways in just a few days.

Earlier this year, pubs and restaurants, irrespective of what their licence and planning status allow, were given a general dispensation to sell takeaway food and alcohol. This was due to expire on 23 March next year. It has however now been extended to 2022. The Communities Secretary, Robert Jenrick, said that the purpose was to ‘give the hospitality sector long-term reassurance’ and that his department will ‘look into whether this one-size-fits-all approach should become the norm’. There was another concession made for wet led pubs, as reported below.

I ought to clarify the situation as regards breweries. Under the regulations for the second lockdown, (see above), breweries were listed in ‘Part 3 – Businesses permitted to remain open’ as ‘34. Off licences and licensed shops selling alcohol (including breweries)’. The pre-ordering requirements do not therefore apply to them, although most prefer on-line orders for convenience and it is easier to deliver larger quantities. The down side is that they are not entitled to any of the financial assistance available to hospitality businesses.

TIER 3

There were a couple of odd points about Tier 3 which are worth recording for posterity.

Pubs were allowed to stay open but only if they served ‘substantial’ meals, and alcoholic drinks could only be served with a meal and you were not allowed to stay drinking once you have finished your meal. There was initial confusion as to what constituted ‘substantial’, although it was clear from the start that it wasn’t a plate of pork scratchings. Would a pasty count? One government minister said that it would, so long as it was served with chips – or a salad. His attempt to promote healthy eating was greeted with a certain amount of derision. There were also reports of pubs offering meals at ridiculously low prices in order to attract custom.

Initially, this arrangement clearly put wet led pubs at a disadvantage, but the Government then made an unexpected concession. Pubs that did not normally serve food were given permission to buy in meals from catering companies. Furthermore, the catering company was allowed to operate a takeaway service from the pub. The only restriction was that the pub had to take the orders and payments for both food and drink and settle up with the caterer separately. That said, the rules about households mixing indoors and outdoors still applied, as did the 10pm curfew, so pubs were still severely disadvantaged.

Another significant development came about when Nottinghamshire was moved into Tier 3 on 30 October and was, I believe, unique to them. Following an initiative from the local police, sales of alcohol by off licences were prohibited after 9pm. The aim was to stop people leaving pubs at 10pm, stocking up with booze and continuing drinking in illegal groups at home. Given the ‘substantial meal’ rule however, there must be a risk that people will simply buy their drinks before 9pm and drink at home, missing out the pub altogether.

Finally, a curious situation arose with working men’s and similar social clubs in the north west of England. Initially, despite being located in a Tier 3 zone, they were allowed to stay open and serve alcohol without food. The argument was that the COVID rules did not apply to private members’ clubs because the drinks were not, as such, being sold. As the club belongs to its members, they are mutual owners of its assets, which includes its stock of drinks. All members are doing by purchasing drinks is putting back into club funds what they are taking out in kind. Mindful perhaps of hundreds of people queuing up to join clubs and the consequent overcrowding, the Department of Health and Social Care immediately amended the legislation. In fairness, it seems only right that clubs should have to abide by the same rules as pubs but it does also mean that, as with pubs, their continued existence is at risk. The substantial meal rule also applied to clubs. Clubs, incidentally, operate on club premises certificates rather than licences. This means that they do not need to have a designated premises supervisor and, because the premises are private, the police and licensing officers have only limited rights of entry.

WESTMINSTER CONFUSION

I ’m not singling out Westminster City Council here because, on the whole, they have been very positive. These events however indicate just how confusing the current situation can be. Having pioneered the free use of streets and pavements for additional outdoor seating, the Council then decided that, as from 1 November, they would charge venues £7 per square metre per day for street space occupied. For a five metre space this would amount to around £1,000 per month. It took just a few days for the Council to decide that by using additional funding announced by the Government around the same time, they could cover the costs after all, so the plans to charge were dropped. Furthermore, heaters and umbrellas would be permitted over the winter months.

POLICE POWERS

In October there was a report in the Daily Mail that, following London’s move into Tier 2, one of the Metropolitan Police’s borough licensing teams had written to pubs in their area saying, ‘Premises should take steps to satisfy themselves that the group (maximum six people) is only from one household or part of a support bubble. This could include requesting photographic identification with names and addresses’. Emma McClarkin, the Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, commented, “Expecting pubs to demand all customers produce photographic identification with names and addresses would be fundamentally inappropriate and completely unacceptable.” The College of Policing then said there was nothing in coronavirus guidance to suggest pubs should request ID. Eventually a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said that the letter was just intended to be advice and, “It was well-intentioned and we hope that it is taken in that way. Our primary aim is to help keep all

Londoners safe and ensure that, through engagement and explanation, the relevant COVID legislation is adhered to.’ The exercise has not been repeated in any other parts of London.

NICE GESTURE

Hanlon’s Brewery, once of Clerkenwell but now well established in Devon, have come up with a novel way of helping their friends in the trade at this difficult time. Under their ‘Love Your Local’ scheme, customers buying beer on their website can nominate their local pub to ‘have one for yourself’ and Hanlon’s will donate 10% of the cost of the customer’s order straight to the pub itself.

Compiled by Tony Hedger