The news today announcing the 10pm curfew for pubs and bars, the Governments latest “finger-in-the-air” scheme to control the spread of Covid-19, initially came as another demoralising hammer-blow to us, losing us what on paper are nine of our often most profitable hours of trade. However, we realise it could have been worse for us and are thankful that, so far, we have not had another full lockdown imposed, something that, unless the treasury again harvested heavily from the magic money tree, could have more serious implications.
As a business that has gone over and above the guidelines to keep staff, customers, and the wider community safe, it is still a bitter pill to swallow. Back when we were able to reopen on 4th July, we read and re-read the Government guidelines, and followed them to the letter. The recommendations were adhered to, whether a legal requirement or not, no matter the financial implication on the business (table service costs more to implement than bar service, but we did it as we felt it was safer) and we stuck rigidly to them, fighting hard to make a go of a business with a newly regulated capacity 70% lower than pre-lockdown. When a lot of these recommendations became legal requirements a week ago, people acted like they were new, but to us, it has been the norm for months, perfectly illustrating the issue at hand as communication from Government has been confusing and seemingly based on nothing.
Our concern is rooted in a lack of understanding of “why?” Why will this measure help control the rising transmission of the virus? In my mind, all they needed to do was announce the other measures that were mentioned – fines for non-compliant business are long overdue for instance. Surely also, all pubs in town centres kicking out at the same time will prevent problems on the streets, and the early finish could encourage people to pile back to homes for late night parties with no measures being heeded. Keeping people in well-run bars and pubs that are monitored and controlled surely is a safer option?
Time and again this year, the hospitality industry has shown its expertise at keeping people safe and being “covid-secure”. Recent figures from Public Health England back this up with transmissions linked to hospitality settings sitting at just 4.3% of the total transmissions for institutions in England. Whilst this is higher than hospitals (2%) it is significantly lower than care homes (45%) and education (21%) and pertinently workplace transmissions (so offices, factories etc) at 18%. So, any improvements in cutting transmission rates from hospitality is going to be a drop in the ocean without improvements elsewhere. Yet, it is still pubs that are the soft target, thrown under the bus regardless of the lack of scientific data to back this up. Despite knowing the data Health Secretary Matt Hancock, speaking on Radio 4 at the end of last week, said “… we know that the vast majority of transmissions happen in social settings whether that’s in hospitality or in people’s own homes.” No Mr Hancock, it doesn’t, read your own departments data.
It smacks to me of cheap shots, of politicians trying to earn easy brownie points with the electorate and press as they see hospitality as “low hanging fruit”, an easy target. Yet hospitality is an industry that is regulated, has successfully been working within strict guidelines and continues to work with the government on track and trace. Healthcare apart, what other sectors can honestly claim that? Hancock said that “the last line of defence is full national action”. However, with much of the North West and North East already under curfew, two of our major cities heavily restricted and London under a self-imposed restriction on commuting, we are getting there in name only. This way though you can have an effect without having to say you have closed businesses and hence providing them with support they need.
It is, of course, crass to look at the financial implications of further mitigations when people are losing their lives, but these implications could well have a far longer reaching impact socially than Covid-19. According to The Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR), the economy faces a hit of £250 million a day if partial lockdowns reverse the increase in people going to pubs and restaurants and returning to work. It warned that GDP could fall by between 3 and 5% in the last three months of the year compared with the third quarter. According to the CEBR, 10pm curfews are also a risk to the economy, particularly in leisure and entertainment. It said there was “a potential £2 billion annual cost if curfew measures reach London”. Well, now they have.
There is no getting away from the fact that the Government has an almost impossible balance to strike between the health of the nation and that of the economy and with it the long-term health of the nation, but to get continued support from the sector it needs to be clearer in the reasoning behind some of its decisions and be more consistent in approach. We will keep fighting tooth and nail for this business, and to continue to provide you with the best drinks in town and a lovely space in which to relax and socialise in safety. We will keep on adapting and modify what we do to enable this. Much as Boris says; we are in this together and will get out of it together!