St Albans MP Daisy Cooper and Watford’s Elected Mayor Peter Taylor are calling for urgent changes to the Tier 2 rules governing the sale of alcohol to prevent a devastating number of pubs going out of business over the Christmas period.
The pair, both leading Liberal Democrats, warn that the hospitality industry in Watford and St Albans is facing an existential crisis if no action is taken, with massive job losses to follow and the disappearance of a huge part of our cultural heritage.
While restrictions for the retail and travel industries have been eased, pubs and restaurants have been singled out for more draconian measures in the fight against Covid-19, they say.
In particular, the Tier 2 requirement for pubs to serve customers a ‘substantial meal’ is flawed and extremely damaging.
Daisy Cooper MP, pictured left pulling a Covid-secure pint, said:
“The rule that pubs must operate as restaurants has never been a workable business model for many, and even those that do sell food find that the decreased capacities and added labour and equipment costs make it unviable.”
And she describes as “absurd” the requirement to serve food in outdoor areas, which is covered by the rule of six and where there is plenty of ventilation.
“It means that those who may have simply wanted a quick pint outdoors with their friends are now being coerced into staying longer as they must have a meal at the same time. Many will be put off by the loss of a quick 20-minute pint.
Package of support to ease impact
“While we continue to live with Covid we need public health restrictions to save lives, but we also need restrictions that work or a package of support that makes up for the impact of those restrictions.
“We urge the Government to remove this absurd requirement for sales in outdoor areas – and to work with the industry to review the same rule for those who want to sit inside a pub on their own and maybe read the paper to tackle isolation and loneliness. Failing that, the Government must step up and support our local hospitality businesses.”
The pair are also calling for an urgent review of the rule that excludes hospitality venues from the Christmas easing of restrictions, which allows up to three households to mix indoors. They argue this would benefit both pubs and restaurants, but critically also the wider public health.
Covid transmission in household setting
“With the majority of Covid transmission appearing to be within a household setting, it’s astonishing that hospitality venues – with all their investment in Covid-secure measures and social distancing – are excluded from the Christmas easing of restrictions,” said Daisy.
“Surely, it’s more responsible to have family gatherings in a well-ventilated, sanitised and controlled environment than in homes. We have all experienced a dozen people being squeezed around a relative’s dinner table in the festive season. Why on earth wouldn’t we take advantage of what the hospitality sector is built for – eating out in space, comfort and safety?”
The pair cite estimates by the Campaign for Real Ale and others that about 10,000 pubs nation-wide could close their doors for the last time this winter without further support.
In order for pubs and hospitality to survive, they are calling on the Government to:
- Widen the 5% VAT rate
- Extend business rates exemption beyond April 2021
- Increase closure and restriction grants to cover fixed costs, staff furlough expenses, and compensation for lost revenue
- Cut the rate of beer duty for draught bear to rescue pubs and cask brewers
- Consult with the industry on other effective measures that could be introduced to keep customers safe from Covid, and
- Release the scientific evidence behind the 10pm curfew, which is causing irreversible damage to the late-night economy.
Peter Taylor, elected mayor of Watford, said:
“Watford Council is doing everything it can to support local businesses but we’re already hearing devastating reports of publicans and their staff in states of genuine distress.
“These small business owners stand not only to lose their sole source of income, but in many cases also their family homes too. They rely on Christmas to see them through the lean months from January to Easter, and have already invested large sums of money in Covid measures, extra staffing and, of course, stock that’s been wasted.
“Pubs rely on the festive period to generate the income that then sees them through the first quarter of the year – without that, many will find themselves in dire straits. Without action from Government now, we stand to write off businesses, jobs and a huge part of our cultural heritage.”