Pubs set for watered-down Bank Holiday bonanza

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The long weekend is set to be sunny so you’d expect the pubs to be happy but for the British Beer and Pub Association, the glass is half-empty.

The trade association grumbled that thanks to capacity constraints caused by coronavirus-related precautions, Britain’s boozers are expected to sell 21mln fewer pints over the Bank Holiday weekend than they would in a normal extended weekend at this time of year.

In a call that will be music to the ears of Tim Marton, the chairman and founder of JD Wetherspoon PLC (LON:JDW), the British Beer and Pub Association (BPPA) has challenged the government not to bottle out next month when it comes to lifting all restrictions on the drinking and dining sector on June 21.

The requirement for table service only in British pubs might be welcomed by confused American tourists but it is not going down well with the BPPA, which said it is set to contribute to an £80mln shortfall in revenue over the Bank Holiday weekend compared to what the industry would take on reasonably sunny long weekend at the end of May.

According to the pressure group, more than 2,000 pubs remain closed because they are too small to implement suitable physical distancing measures or because they can’t get enough staff to offer table service.

“Revenues for pubs this bank holiday weekend will be £80 million lower than normal when it comes to beer sales. That is a huge amount of money and could be the difference between surviving or thriving for thousands of pubs in communities across the country,” said Emma McClarkin, the chief executive of the BPPA.

“As more and more people get their vaccine, and if reports continue to suggest that the Indian variant is less prevalent than originally believed, all restrictions must be removed in pubs on June 21 as per the Government’s own road map,” McClarkin demanded, possibly while banging her tankard violently on the table.

“Pubs only have a fighting chance of recovering from more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions if they can fully reopen as normal,” she claimed.

Has Tim Martin got a view on this?

Her words back up the views expressed, in typically diffident <cough> manner, by Wetherspoon’s founder Tim Martin in the pubs group’s half-year update back in March.

“It is disappointing that so many regulations, implemented at tremendous cost to the nation, appear to have had no real basis in common sense or science – for example, curfews, ‘substantial meals’ with drinks and masks for bathroom visits,” Martin said.

“The future of the industry, and of the UK economy, depends on a consistent set of sensible policies, and the ending of lockdowns and tier systems, which have created economic and social mayhem and colossal debts, with no apparent health benefits,” Martin asserted, taking time off from complaining about the unfair tax treatment of pubs compared to supermarkets.

“By the time pubs were closed by the government after Christmas, a total of 1,244 or 3.3% of 37,800 Wetherspoon employees had tested positive for Covid-19, from reopening in July. For the UK as a whole, 2.3 million people had tested positive by then, according to the UK government website (https://coronavirus.data.gov.uk/ ), 3.4% of the population,” Martin fulminated.

“Since pub employees spend more time in pubs than anyone else, these statistics do not indicate that pubs are centres of transmission, which some commentators have suggested. There were no reported instances of the virus being transmitted from staff to customers in Wetherspoon pubs, or vice versa, since the reopening last July,” he added.

Is there life on Marston’s?

More recently (May 19), Marston’s PLC (LON:MARS) sang a similar tune, albeit less stridently, in its half-year results statement.

“Our experience of minimal infection rates in the summer of 2020 was consistent with others in the sector. Nevertheless, from the end of September, an array of additional restrictions and lockdowns were introduced which meant that pubs have been closed or have only been able to open at minimal levels of trade for the last six months. These restrictions and lockdowns were introduced at different times and with different rules in England, Scotland and Wales, and with a bewildering level of complexity,” the pub and brewing group said.

CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) was another group calling on the government to commit to lifting all remaining restrictions as soon as it is safe to do so.

“Whilst indoor opening … is a significant step in the right direction, many pubs will struggle to make ends meet due to restrictions on the amount of customers they can serve,” said Nik Antona, CAMRA’s national chairman, when the restrictions on indoor drinking were lifted on Monday.

“It’s really important that we give as much support as possible to local breweries and cider producers as well as to our pubs so that they can survive and thrive after an exceptionally difficult year,” Antona said.

On the plus side, the Government has introduced a reduced rate of value-added tax (VAT) at 5% for food and non-alcoholic drinks until September 30, 2021, and then 12.5% until March 31, 2022.

The business rates relief has been extended in full to June 30 of this year and is then reduced to 66% from July 1 to March 31 of next year but is capped at £2mln.

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