Exclusive: Government review delays announcement that pubs can reopen
Downing Street’s plan to announce earlier this week that pubs and restaurants could open on 4 July was delayed by a government review, putting hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk.
City A.M. understands that Covid-19 operating guidelines for England’s hospitality sector have been drawn up by the government and are ready to distribute.
However, the announcement to ease the lockdown further was delayed by Boris Johnson’s last-minute review into whether it is possible to reduce its two-metre social distancing rule.
Hospitality lobbies have been demanding clarity on when the lockdown will be eased for their members, after Johnson initially said that 4 July would be the earliest possible date.
The British Beer and Pub Association has said repeatedly that its members need at least three weeks’ notice for venues to be ready to open in time, however 4 July is now 17 days away.
Hospitality venues have said they need time to be able to un-furlough staff, procure freshly brewed beer and take bookings in order to be profitable.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) told members of its hospitality taskforce – comprised of prominent figures in the industry – that it would announce on Monday or Tuesday this week that the lockdown would be eased for the sector on 4 July.
However, multiple members of the taskforce told City A.M. that the announcement had been delayed as the government looked to see if it could reduce its social distancing rule to one or one-and-half metres.
It is unclear if 4 July is still the planned date to allow pubs, restaurants and coffee shops to reopen.
A source said: “Every day that goes by is costing the sector millions of pounds and at the end of the day we just really need confirmation of our opening date.”
Another added: “The Prime Minister does not seem to be aware just how important it is to get the sector running by 4 July.”
It comes as 50 members of the British Beer and Pub Association today wrote to Johnson demanding a reopening date by Friday.
The companies involved collectively brew 90 per cent of the beer in Britain and own 20,000 of its pubs.
In a statement, British Beer and Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin said uncertainty around the reopening date meant “hundreds of thousands of jobs could be lost”.
“Our sector is burning through £100 million a month just trying to survive with no cash coming in,” she said.
“Without a confirmed date for reopening, our sector is going to have to make some big decisions this week on furloughed staff and when reopening is feasible, with a further wave of redundancies likely.”
Ralph Findlay, chief executive of brewery, pub and hotel operator Marston’s, added: “Without an immediate and definitive confirmation from government on timing, I can’t afford to bring our staff back to work.
“It is critical for pubs to be open and trading over the summer, or many pubs will not reopen, and many more jobs will be lost.”
The government’s review into a potential reduction of its social distancing rule to one or one-and-half metres was announced by the Prime Minister last week.
Yesterday, he said that it was too soon to make the change, but told people to “watch this space”.
A number of Tory backbenchers have come out to demand the government makes the change.
Responding to questions about the delay of the announcement, a government spokesperson said: “We want to be able to reopen pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes as soon as possible and it remains our ambition to do so from the beginning of July, but it must be safe so we do not risk a second wave of this virus.
“We are working with the sector at pace to develop guidance on how these businesses can reopen safely, and this will be published ahead of time to allow them to prepare.”