Updated: Jan 8, 2021
This year it is clear that against the backdrop of decreasing economic stability, consumer
confidence is falling materially. We know why this is - because we have lived with the nightmare that is COVID19 since being told by our Prime Minister to 'Stay Home' for the first time in March 2020.
Upon reopening, competition in the retail hospitality sector will be more intense than ever. The general public have changed. Pubs are now competing not just with a vast array of out-of-home leisure options, including shopping, casual dining, coffee shops, food markets and experiences, but increasingly sophisticated in-home entertainment, such as in-play betting available at consumers’ smartphone-enabled finger tips. The things that have had much more airtime than pubs in the last 9 months. Consequently of course, pub customer expectations are spiralling ever higher, matched only by their refusal to accept or forgive poor experiences. For pubs to defend and grow their share of the leisure pound, it will be of utmost importance to remain agile in this rapidly changing environment.
“It’s vital that the on-trade continues to understand and respond to the people coming back through the doors of the nation’s pubs, bars and clubs – and that we all seek better ways to delight, reward and most importantly, keep them coming back.” - Martin Eggleston - That's ME Talking
So - here we are at New Year, heading into 2021. 9 months have passed since the doors first closed on the on trade. We have been through Closing, reopening, Eat out to help out, and closing again... its been a turbulent year, and the waves keep coming.
Most areas of England are now under tier four restrictions from New Years Eve, at the same time areas such as Cambridgeshire, Oxfordshire and Sussex move from tier two, and all tier 1 areas are upgraded – meaning sector business will close for dine-in customers and only be able to offer takeaway and delivery, across nearly the whole nation.
December is typically the most lucrative month of the year for the UK’s ailing pub sector, accounting for as much as a quarter of annual profit, thanks to Christmas parties and New Year’s Eve festivities. Pubs expect December sales to be as much as 90% lower than last year, costing the industry £650m and fuelling concern that vast parts of the sector will disappear for good.
These urgent restrictive actions require equally urgent accompanying financial support for businesses, many more of which have been flung closer to commercial failure. Many more pubs, restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels, having invested so much to make their venues safe, are now looking at indefinite and total loss of trading. They need an immediate message that at the very least the 5% VAT rate and business rates holiday will remain throughout next year, supported by a package of survival grants, so they can try to plan strategies to save their businesses. The incessant hammering of hospitality businesses must be followed up with an equally exaggerated raft of support to rescue the sector when the virus is under better control, or many jobs and livelihoods will have been sacrificed for very little effect.
The news these restrictions will last until spring, and normality may not return until 2022, means it is essential for the government to now step in to protect perfectly viable hospitality businesses that are struggling under unfair and largely un-evidenced restrictions.
Is it time for the PM to come clean and tell the general public the truth ? The harsh truth that pubs and hospitality venues are safe when controlled within the law.... but unfortunately the public cannot be trusted to abide by COVID19 rules, when full of alcohol induced bravado.
Lets take this example from a local press seen on social media...
Clearly Simon is one of those that knows better than all the scientists in all the World. Simon is one of those that has caused the Government to be so, so reticent when it comes to opening pubs. We all know that too much consumed alcohol changes behaviour, usually for the worse... imagine what over consumption would do for a half wit like Simon. Then put yourself in the position of making the decision to open pubs, and subjecting thousands of infected Simon's, drunk, on an unsuspecting public.
For me, the licensing law is crystal clear - Without trying to teach granny to suck eggs, the purpose of the system of licensing for licensable activities is to promote four fundamental objectives (“the licensing objectives”). Those objectives are – a) the prevention of crime and disorder; b) public safety; c) the prevention of public nuisance; and d) the protection of children from harm. With this in mind, I think the Government has 2 choices - 1. Enforce the law according to the objectives or 2. Ignore the law regardless of the objectives. At the moment they are taking option 2, because, I believe, they cannot trust the public to behave.
Is that true ?
Well, looking at it from the Governments perspective.. We keep being told in briefings that "the people of the UK have followed the rules and behaved really well" - when we all know this simply isn't true - you only had to look at the news every single day to see that. Even on New Years Eve, protesters denying COVID19 exists, outside St Thomas' hospital, where inside people were dying, from COVID19. It is unbelievable. We can only assume, that like the majority of UK citizens - the government know that a certain proportion of the UK population are direct descendants of half witted cave dwellers, who given half a chance will have a massive piss-up. They cannot say "stop acting like morons for 6 months and this will blow over" because the infantile mentality of these people will run riot - I would love to see Jonathan Van Tam make an anecdote of it - but alas... it isn't going to happen anytime soon.
So we are left with this seriously complicated flowchart of pub life.
Then on Boxing Day, came tier 4. Everybody in.
I've despaired with certain sections of the UK for years, and all I see nowadays just solidifies my belief that there are certain highly entitled sectors of UK society that are morally vacuous. So much so, that I wonder if we will ever recover social conscience without major cultural upheaval. Alongside this, the media channels undoubtedly have an agenda to push, all you see is negativity and anti government rhetoric. Beth Rigby and Robert Peston, asking impossible to answer questions... Here is the truth Beth and Robert - Nobody in the Government can promise when this will be over - you know it, I know it , we all know it - so why ask for an answer to the impossible question, merely to be able to finger point and create headlines at the Government expense.
All this angst aside, I do not think the Government is incompetent, but over the past few months it has become clear the pub is deeply misunderstood by those in the seat of power. Far from being the drinking dens of 50 years ago, community pubs are the biggest community outreach programme that this country has, provided free of charge by landlords, Tenants and Managers the length and breadth of the country. It is therefore hugely distressing to see as we exit lockdown 2, that once again, pubs have been targeted for special measures in the reshaped tier system. Special treatment that will lead to the inevitable failure of some of these precious community assets. Earlier in the year the Government was hugely supportive of the pub industry, which it chose to close for long periods in response to the COVID19 pandemic - and that support was invaluable. I fear now that interest in supporting the sector has weakened significantly.
As I alluded to earlier, I do think that given that we are persisting with a tier system, the playing field has to be level, and we should allow pubs to reopen, the same as any other retail business. The graphic below explains it best, I am pretty sure that given the option of open within the legal framework or remain closed, pub companies would open. The law is simple regards alcohol - do not serve under age or under the influence - if you do expect trouble. The vast majority of publicans understand this, and those that don't, well maybe they shouldn't be in that job...
What they need is the support of Government to tackle pre-loading, by levelling the financial playing field between pubs and supermarkets; they need support from the law to enforce removal of people under the influence from towns; they need confidence to turn away anybody that they feel already under the influence before they gain entry.... publicans are more than capable of making their venues COVID safe places, trading safely and subsequently not endangering the public outside the venue.
do not serve under age or under the influence - if you do expect trouble. The vast majority of publicans understand this, and those that don't, well maybe they shouldn't be in that job...
The current restrictions were devastating enough but now with the introduction of tier four and a tightening of the rules over Christmas, consumer confidence will be hit further, leading to cancellations and greater financial woes for pubs and brewers. The government has to recognise the damage that has been done, and do more to secure the future of pubs, the cornerstone of our communities, and a huge contributor to the British way of life.