'Scapegoated': Shropshire landlords left in lurch ahead of festive shutdown

Hundreds of pubs in the county could be forced to close over the festive period after the area came under new Tier 2 restrictions.

James Hitchin, of The Alb in Shrewsbury, said his industry was being scapegoated
James Hitchin, of The Alb in Shrewsbury, said his industry was being scapegoated

The closures will lead to thousands of people not working as businesses are faced with vastly reduced turnovers, according to research by the British Beer and Pub Association.

The trade body warns of “carnage” across the industry and county publicans have spoken of their frustration at rules which require them to serve a 'table meal' to allow people to drink alcohol.

The BBPA estimates that two-thirds of pubs in Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin will be forced to close in December – 370 venues.

This is because they serve no food or make a low percentage of their overall turnover from selling meals.

Under Tier 2 “High Alert” restrictions, which came into force earlier this week, pubs and bars can only serve alcohol on the premises with a “substantial meal”.

Duncan Borrowman, who runs the Bailey Head in Oswestry, said situation meant they had decided to remain closed but to continue with takeaway and delivery.

He said the shutdown would mean them losing 90 per cent of their normal December takings.

Duncan Borrowman and Grace Goodland from the Bailey Head in Oswestry

He said: "At the moment we have taken the decision not to open. We are carrying on with takeaway and delivery service and we are constantly reviewing whether we could open.

"We have never been a food-based pub and given the restrictions on how long people can stay when they are eating and when they have to leave it's a question of whether that would be viable for us to open, and with the latest restrictions whether it would be viable bringing staff back off furlough for the much reduced income we would take."

He added: "At this time of year, pre-Christmas, we would normally have four staff and maybe someone part time, with 100 people in, turning people away. We are in a situation with the table service where you have to have the same number of staff in but only about 30 people and a much reduced take from those people under the Tier 2 restrictions."

He said the issue of forcing pubs to only serve alcohol with a meal did not entirely make sense.

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He said: "They are trying to tie it to having people sat down but we were already made to have people sitting down.

"The meal is not relevant to it. Provided you are running the pub properly and people sit down to drink it makes no difference if they have a plate of food in front of them. The coronavirus is not smart enough to know what you are consuming.

"What they should be doing is clamping down on venues that weren't abiding by the existing rules."

'Scapegoated'

James Hitchin, landlord of The Alb in Shrewsbury, said: "The hospitality industry has been scapegoated for spreading the virus when there is such little evidence.

If you look at the Tier 2 restrictions, the changes for other industries are not as major. I feel sorry for our staff. I haven't been able to bring anyone back full time. I feel for the pubs that don't serve food.

"People will still drink alcohol, but they'll do it at house parties rather than in a Covid-secure venue. I've had people enquiring to hire my bar staff for Christmas parties because they want a professional cocktail maker. I wouldn't agree to it because I don't want to risk the safety of my staff."

John Ellis, landlord of The Crown in Telford, will only be selling takeaway beer while the regulations remain as they are.

The popular real-ale pub, which is also known for hosting live music performances and Telford Comedy Club, is one of many across the county to decide it would not be financially viable to open.

Mr Ellis said: "Would it be worth it? We had five days of the old Tier 2 and we were full but we were only 25 per cent of capacity - we had to turn people away when we were 25 per cent full and that's just not viable.

"We could do that now and have to serve food but how many of my customers would want to come in when it is not a food pub? We would be putting all this time and effort and management in place, and if we were successful we would still have to be turning people away, and if we were successful we would also have all these extra costs. It would not be viable."

He added: "We have a good structure and we will be here at the end of this but I do worry how many other pubs will be."

Thousands out of work

Based on the reduced earnings, the BBPA estimates that 4,239 of 4,945 pub staff will not work over the month.

Across England, an estimated 30,400 pubs will have to close during December – 13,900 in Tier 2 areas and a further 16,500 in Tier 3, where all pubs have to shut except for takeaway and delivery services.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said: “With 99 per cent of the country under tighter Tier 2 or Tier 3 restrictions, there will be carnage unless the Government acts immediately.

“We need the Government to recognise the impact of these restrictions and urgently provide more financial support.

“We cannot overstate how serious the situation is currently facing our staff, communities and businesses.

“The future of hundreds of breweries, thousands of pubs and tens of thousands of jobs hangs in the balance.”

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced a one-off £1,000 "Christmas grant" to support pubs in Tier 2 and 3 that predominantly serve alcohol rather than food.

Ms McClarkin said this was a "meagre amount" to cover the loss of business pubs will face over the festive period.

Mr Borrowman said: "Our standing bills are way more than the £1,000. It does not cover the costs of keeping the doors open."

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman said: "We understand the pressure businesses are currently under, particularly the hospitality industry. These restrictions, which are reviewed every 14 days, are essential so we can control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives."

He added that the £1,000 grant for pubs accompanied a "wide-ranging package of financial support", including the extended furlough scheme, other business grants, loan schemes and business rates holidays.

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