Introduction to the February/March edition

When I wrote the introduction to the December/January edition all was looking promising for a profitable Christmas and New Year for the pub trade to both help them get back on their feet and cover the traditionally ‘slow’ period at the start of the year. That was however before the full significance of the Covid Omicron variant was known and, ten days before Christmas, we were invited to put ourselves into a variation of lockdown. Consequently, and perfectly understandably, many bookings were cancelled and people stayed away from pubs and restaurants. According to a report in the Morning Advertiser, pubs on average lost £10,335 in the week before Christmas and takings on Christmas Day were down by 60%.

This isn’t the place to debate the rights and wrongs of the Government’s ‘Plan B’ and how it has dealt with the Omicron outbreak but I believe that it is reasonable to expect them to take responsibility for the consequences of their advice, even if it hasn’t been made law. They cannot just abandon the hospitality industry, pubs in particular, to their fate as ‘collateral damage’. Some assistance was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer but it was very limited.

This is what CAMRA’s national chairman, Nik Antona, said on 21 December, “Today’s announcement of grants of up to £6,000 and some help with staff sick pay will certainly be welcomed by publicans up and down the country. It is a first step in the right direction and important recognition from ministers that the actions of government have massively hit consumer confidence, footfall and the ability for businesses to turn a profit at what should be their busiest time of the year. Sadly for some pubs that have already closed their doors due to cancellations and a huge drop in trade, this support will be too late. Whilst the grants announced today may help businesses through the next few weeks, it will not make up for losing out on the Christmas trade which is vital for keeping pubs and breweries going during the quiet months at the start of the year. In addition to getting these grants paid to licensees as quickly as possible, it is vital that local councils in England use their discretionary funding to support breweries, cider producers and other businesses in the supply chain who have also been affected. Businesses still desperately need certainty on what might happen next. If further restrictions are going to be imposed there needs to be enough time for pubs and breweries to plan and prepare. In the face of any restrictions on trading, the sector will also need a comprehensive support package over and above what has been announced today, including further employment support through furlough, rent support and business rate relief to support and safeguard our locals.”

The grants are being administered by local authorities and the funding for them has only recently been made available. Several pub companies, Fuller’s for example, closed a number of their pubs over the holiday period. Let us hope that they will all reopen as the situation improves, as appears to be the case.

In the meantime, if you are working from home but usually do most of your drinking in pubs around your workplace, please do explore your local pubs.

Tony Hedger

PS the Introduction above was written before the Prime Minister announced the changes to Plan B that came into effect in the last week of January