Coronavirus: 'Thousands of pubs and hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk'

17 March 2020, 08:11

The pub industry is facing a crisis
The pub industry is facing a crisis. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The pub industry could be facing mass job losses and permanent closures following Government advice to avoid bars in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pubs and restaurant bosses have called on the Prime Minister for support after Mr Johnson said that people should avoid all "unnecessary contact with others" and "avoid pubs, clubs and other venues" to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The industry is calling for financial support with the British Beer and Pub Association demanding urgent steps are taken to prevent staff being made redundant and venues closing.

British Beer and Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin has told LBC's Nick Ferrari her industry is facing an existential crisis.

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Some have warned because the government hasn't enforced an official ban on going to places like bars and cafes - they won't be able to claim on insurance for their losses.

She told LBC: "Thousands of pubs and hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost in the short term unless we get a really proactive package that creates cash liquidly providing to the industry to keep those pubs open."

"Forced pub closures without a meaningful support package will have a catastrophic financial and social impact."

The letter calls for the Government to cancel all business rates payments for six months, as well as all tax payments including PAYE, VAT and corporation tax for pubs and hospitality businesses.

It also calls for the cancellation of beer duty payments for six months, and the postponement of the planned national minimum and living wage increases due in April.

Ms McClarkin added: "I cannot emphasise strongly enough how critical it is that action is taken now.

"Failure to do so will destroy the industry."

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At a press conference in Downing Street on Monday afternoon, Mr Johnson advised that people should start working from home "where they possibly can".

"You should avoid pubs, clubs, theatres and other such social venues," he added.

Asked whether pubs, restaurants and theatres were being ordered to close, the Prime Minister said: "What we are doing is giving very strong advice that public venues such as theatres should no longer be visited.

"The proprietors of those venues are taking the logical steps that you would imagine, you are seeing the change happen already.

"As for enforcement, we have the powers if necessary but I don't believe it will be necessary to use those powers."

He added: "We are going to make sure that we do everything we can to give them the liquidity that they need."

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Of the announcement, Carluccio's chief executive Mark Jones said help must be put in place immediately.

He said: "To do that to an industry without any fiscal support whatsoever condemns us to death effectively."

He said "enormous state intervention" is needed, acknowledging that, even without rent and business rates being officially dropped, firms will not be able to pay.

He said: "We are days away from large-scale closures of restaurants throughout the UK."

Other pub, restaurant and theatre industry leaders said they were concerned that, because the Government has not ordered them to close, businesses will not be entitled to insurance payouts.

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the new advice left the industry in "limbo with no recourse to insurance".

She added: "This is catastrophic for businesses and jobs.

"The Government has effectively shut the hospitality industry without any support, and this announcement will lead to thousands of businesses closing their doors for good, and hundreds of thousands of job losses."

Shadow culture secretary Tracy Brabin said on Twitter that the Prime Minister needs to "urgently clarify" whether theatres, music venues and other venues will be entitled to claim insurance.

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Speaking in the House of Commons on Monday evening, Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs he appreciated that the latest advice had consequences.

Asked if the Government could give advice on whether pubs and restaurants should close or not so that they could claim on insurance, Mr Hancock said: "We're advising against all unnecessary social contact. I appreciate that this has consequences and I regret having to take these measures, I really do, but we are having to fight this virus.

"I appreciate that this has consequences and I regret having to take these measures, I really do, but we are having to fight this virus."

An Association of British Insurers (ABI) spokesman said: "We are working with members to assess the situation, and that firms should, in this fast-moving situation, talk to their insurer or insurance adviser".