This week, the Express revealed the results from our recent rural pubs survey. The responses can only be described as incredibly concerning reading.
The key findings in brief:
- 92 percent of landlords who responded want to scrap the requirement for customers to purchase a ‘substantial meal’
- Only 34 percent of those responding report they can last out being shut until Summer
- Inability to sell alcohol as part of takeaways is having a negative impact on those pubs left open
- Landlords split over reintroduction of ‘Eat out to Help out’ scheme
Some 80 landlords and pub owners from across the country took part in the survey, which was shared on social media and through the Alliance’s rural business network.
70% of respondents think they will be able to survive if restrictions are lifted by April, when it is hoped that the vaccine should have been given to people in the most vulnerable groups. However, when asked about being required to remain closed until June, the number drops to 37%.
When asked for what more could be done to aid their business, the top request mentioned was for business rates and VAT on beer to be scrapped or significantly reduced.
One respondent said: “We need positive help, vat to stay at 5% for at least 2 years, rates to be cut by 50 % for the same length of time.” Another warned: “This is causing severe mental health/isolation issues in rural areas.”
92 % want to scrap the rule that customers must order a substantial meal to be allowed to buy a drink when pubs reopen. Respondents indicated that this requirement had an overall adverse effect on customer footfall. Despite many pubs trying out different menu items, it was felt that their efforts had been in vain. The impact was underlined with 57% reporting that regulars stopped coming to their pubs when the rule was in place and 82% saw a reduction in overall footfall.
Landlords also revealed that the bulk had spent staggering sums- between £1,000-5,000- on installing features designed to comply with and aid COVID-19 safety guidance: including outdoor heaters, hand sanitising stations and personal protective equipment (PPE) for staff.
Last week, we revealed that some 80% of pub owners support allowing their premises, which in most cases are currently unused, to be used in the vaccine rollout.
A BBC investigation has revealed that there were more than 500 outbreaks, or suspected outbreaks, in offices in the second half of 2020 - more than in supermarkets, construction sites, warehouses, restaurants and cafes combined.
A Countryside Alliance spokesman said: ‘Rightly much of the government’s focus is on rolling out vaccinations across the country. It is only through doing this that we can seriously pave the way for returning to normality. Understandably, the underlying anxieties and hurt caused by Covid-19 across the pub industry remain very much alive. Pubs are at the forefront of their communities up and down the countryside and their loss would be both catastrophic and irreversible.
He added: ‘When the government address the matter of easing lockdown, pubs need a clear roadmap and sufficient, practical advance warning. Rules such as having to purchase substantial meals for example, need to be scrapped as this appears to be having an adverse effect on customer flow, something many pubs just can’t afford. Financial security in the event of prolonged periods of closure is also key to their survival.’
Considering the views expressed by rural publicans, the Countryside Alliance is calling on the government to:
- Offer a practical road map for pubs and the hospitality industry at large to help them realistically prepare for when they can resume trading again;
- Allow those pubs that are continuing to operate safely as a takeaway service, to sell alcohol. The current set up is unfair, as supermarkets continue to sell alcohol;
- When pubs do reopen again, the requirement for patrons to purchase a substantial meal should be scrapped. It is unclear how this helps stop the spread of Covid and it is having and adverse impact on pubs at an already difficult enough time; and
- If forced to remain closed into the Summer months, provide these struggling businesses with increased financial support. We cannot see them fall by the wayside.
Earlier this week, Bromley Council announced that it had ringfenced £1million to help independent pubs, including sports and social clubs.
The Council announced it recognised that these local businesses have been amongst the most severely impacted and have had access to limited support. Grants range from £3000 for the smallest premises, up to £10,500 for larger premises. Details for those wishing to apply can do so here.
An Alliance spokesman added: ‘ The move by Bromley Council is one that should be welcomed and ideally replicated by local authorities up and down the country. When this lockdown ends, these vital facilities which mean so much to so many, need to still be standing.’