Pub and bar bosses have attacked the government over “scandalous” measures that have left them struggling to survive, as a review of the tiered system of coronavirus restrictions offered no respite.
The chief executives of JD Wetherspoon and Revolution Bars criticised policies they described as unduly punitive towards the hospitality sector.
Speaking as his 67-strong chain of bars reported a £32m pre-tax loss, the chief executive of Revolution Bars, Rob Pitcher, was scathing as he castigated ministers for forcing hospitality businesses to close without sufficient financial support to keep them from bankruptcy.
“The UK government’s actions towards wet-led bars and late-night hospitality are nothing short of scandalous,” he said, expressing widespread industry anger about the disproportionate impact on “wet-led” venues that do not serve food.
“It has little evidence to justify the severe restrictions that have been imposed and it is deliberately sacrificing businesses and people’s livelihoods.
“The recent grants of £1,000 per pub as compensation for being deprived of our most important trading period is derisory and insulting, and underlines a complete lack of understanding of the costs associated with businesses of this nature [even when they are shut] or any sympathy for the consequences of their inept decisions.”
Pitcher has shut seven venues during the pandemic. His exasperation was echoed by the Wetherspoon’s boss, Tim Martin, who has been a persistent and vocal critic of lockdown restrictions that have affected his 867 UK pubs, 70% of which are shut.
Speaking at the company’s annual meeting, Martin – who once backed Boris Johnson to be prime minister – renewed his condemnation of the government.
“Over 800,000 jobs have been lost so far, approximately equivalent to the combined working populations of the cities of Manchester and Birmingham,” he said. “These job losses are bound to rise sharply in the coming months, without a radical change in government policy.
“Since the government often relies on false information, rather than truth, its outcomes will inevitably be poor. The sources of government information, especially Sage [Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies], in which academics predominate, have often been faulty.”
Wetherspoons slumped to its first annual loss this year, as the pub chain counted the cost of restrictions on socialising that have wreaked havoc across the industry.
Earlier this month, leading figures in the pubs industry said more than 10,000 of the UK’s 47,200 pubs could be lost for good, with takings during the normally lucrative December period expected to be down by as much as 90%.
The British Beer and Pub Association has said it fears 300,000 jobs could be lost in hospitality sector without increased financial support to help see the industry through the pandemic.
London was put into tier 3 restrictions earlier this week while a national review of the tier system on Thursday has offered precious little relief, with most areas seeing either increased curbs or no change.
The Night Time Industries Association, which represents bars and nightclubs, condemned decision and said its members were being punished so that other sectors – such as retail – could keep trading.
Michael Kill, the association’s chief executive, said: “The government has compounded an already critical position within the night time economy and hospitality sector. Thousands of businesses and employees have supported the government’s public health campaign against Covid, creating safe, regulated environments for people to socialise.
“This financial burden and commitment has been recognised only in lip service, with insubstantial support measures to repay confidence in the sector.
“The current financial support is grossly disproportionate to operating costs and the current restrictions express a level of wilful ignorance: they are a policy decision, without scientific basis or consideration for the hardest hit sectors.
“This deserves nothing less than anger and outrage from operators and businesses.”
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