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The View from Under the Bus

 

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!

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How hard is it to follow a simple rule?

 

We are a long way into this lockdown thing now. It has been nigh on six months in fact. You would have thought we would be used to it and in control. But apparently not. Infection rates are climbing, there are localised breakouts, and a trip round town, day or night, illustrates how much people either don’t care or don’t understand. We should all appreciate what is going on by now, the planet is gripped in a pandemic, people are dying, and to help we stay apart as best we can, wash our hands and the surfaces we touch and wear masks over our mouth and nose to minimise airborne transfer. Simple.

Yet shops are filled with moronic idiots with no mask on, or they are wearing one round their chin or with their nose poking out. Yes, I get it, it gets hot and uncomfortable, trust me I know all about it, I am fat and hairy, but I manage, I realise that hospital or death is probably worse than 20 mins of discomfort. People are socialising in inappropriate groups and not understanding how far two metres actually is and worst of all, as far as I am concerned, there are businesses that seem to be flouting industry specific rules, whether through ignorance or, more likely, greed. By this, I specifically mean other bars and pubs, places that are obviously fuller than they should be, with people stood around instead of sitting, going to the bar, gathering in groups way bigger than six, blatantly not from the same social bubbles or households etc. Pubs that are having mass brawls and getting closed for the night by the police but opening the following day like nothing has happened.

This angers and confuses me. The information is easily available and is reported in the media frequently, so ignorance is not likely, which means it is greed that is making these places behave this way. They are coining it in as if nothing is going on whilst the majority of us in the trade toe the line and consequently watch our bank balances sliding towards red as our turnover crashes and our costs escalate (I have said it before, table service costs more to run yet you serve less people). In what way is this fair, and why the hell is nothing being done about it? Why are these operators still allowed to open?

One is a major company of course; whose arse of an owner donates millions to the Tory Party. His pubs could probably host evenings of human sacrifice to the devil and still be allowed to trade. But some of the others do not sit under this corporate safety umbrella, they are independent businesses run by what I can only guess are greedy individuals with no concern for the communities that they operate within. Yes, I understand that these places lack “Tuppennyness” so tend to act as magnets for morons and idiots, but they still have a responsibility to manage their customers. So, if you know people who go to these places, gently nudge them, and make them see the error of their ways. Let’s get people to support the businesses that are supporting our community by following guidelines and regulations, especially those local businesses that worked to keep things going through lockdown.

We all know the misbehaving businesses I am talking about, I don’t need to spell it out, and we should all be getting as angry about them as we are about the absolute tool in the supermarket coughing their way round with no mask, or the high ranking government advisor who sets policy to say one thing as he does the opposite. What we should not be doing is tarring an entire industry with their filthy brush. Most of us are doing it right, and suffering because we are. Blame needs to be apportioned where it is due, not broadly, and steps taken to keep us all safe. Councils and police need the power to be able to shut down operators who are flouting Covid guidelines. The last thing we all need is another complete lockdown because of greedy business owners and morons who cannot follow a simple guideline.