masked bartender filling beer

LICENSING EXPERTS STRIVE TO HELP THE HOSPITALITY SECTOR AS PUBS DEALT YET ANOTHER BLOW IN THE GOVERNMENT’S PANDEMIC RESPONSE

Licensed and leisure specialists at Harris Lamb are working closely with pubs and restaurant to try and guide them through the support options available after they were dealt another blow during the country’s Coronavirus response.

With hospitality businesses having invested heavily into making their properties as safe as possible for customers, purchasing PPE, increasing sanitation levels, increasing staff training and losing seating and investing screening  to facilitate the necessary distancing between tables, they have since had a 10pm curfew placed upon them, and now a large proportion of England have been banned from socialising in an indoor hospitality setting with those from outside their household.

Victoria Trafford, Director, said: “The conversations we have had are so disheartening. We work with significant portfolios of pubs throughout the country, and for more than six months we’ve been helping them navigate whatever business support package are available to them.

“We are doing all we can to assist publicans in their fight against long term closure and understandably there is a massive amount of frustration and distress throughout the sector. Publicans have done all they can, with some increasing outside areas and others installing screens around seating areas, yet the Government keeps changing the rules  – but the key question here is how many times can a pub be expected to alter its layout or add more screens before it is just not financially viable to do so?

“Throughout the sector, there have been redundancies and the latest developments, which have seen 10pm curfews placed on establishments – which has a huge financial impact on a pub’s bottom line – and then further restrictions according to this week’s tiered response, whereby sites in tier two cannot allow more than one household to mix indoors and those in tier three can only serve alcohol with a ‘substantial meal’ could push those publicans who actually have an outdoor area to put themselves into further financial difficulty trying to make those areas more attractive to customers.

“While grants have been put in place for pubs based on their rateable values, we are looking to work with clients to secure refunds for periods not covered by the Government, and to ensure the access whatever financial aid is available to them,” she said.

According the Government’s latest Job Support Scheme announcement, aimed at those businesses subject to closure due to the pandemic. properties with a rateable value of £15,000 or under will receive grants of £667 per two weeks of closure, equating to £1,334 per month, while those with a rateable value of over £15,000 and less than £51,000 will receive grants of £1,000 per two weeks of closure – equating to £2,000 per month. Properties with a rateable value of £51,000 or over will receive grants of £1,500 per two weeks of closure, or £3,000 per month.

Victoria said: “We can help pubs seek refunds for periods of closure not covered by the Government’s response, and post-opening, we will be working to seek lower Rateable Values for the future that will stay in place after the rates free period has ended. Similarly, we intend to argue for zero rates on sites that are forced to close or have not reopened.

James Ward, Associate within Harris Lamb’s Licensed and Leisure team, has been working closely with the BII throughout the course of the pandemic and said that the latest raft of restrictions had the potential to topple many pubs.

“Winter is coming and the trade is thinning out as the cold weather bites. People do not want to sit outside to eat or drink in the rain and wind. Screens between restaurant tables are a sensible option, effectively creating a booth for diners, but in a wet led pub the issue is one of segregation and conversation stifling. Our clients have said they feel that drinkers are being treated more like factory farmed animals than free range customers – something that this week’s tiered restrictions will only reinforce.

“Publicans have gone over and above to comply and keep staff and customers safe:  Yes; wear a mask to move around. Yes; follow the one way system. Yes, be responsible and sign in to the Track and Trace system. But for the sake of sanity in communities where the only contact some people have with other humans is a catch up at the pub , we need to be sensible about spacing and allow people to talk and laugh to keep their spirits up, to alleviate the burden on mental health specialists in the NHS and to benefit the general wellbeing of our communities and the people who live in them.

Outdoor social distancing COVID-19 steps being implemented in Old Compton Street, Soho
Outdoor social distancing csteps being implemented in Old Compton Street, Soho
Pic: iStock/VV Shots

“We know that across the board, local authority leaders and individual MPs are reasoning with the Government to take into account local epidemiology and trust in licensees to take all necessary steps to protect staff and customers alike, rather than place sweeping measures upon them that could prove fatal at such a crucial time.

“We are doing everything we can to work with hospitality venues to access as much Government support as possible, and can only hope that a review of procedures sooner rather than later will see the sector receive a much-needed break,” he added.

To discuss the financial aid available to pubs and restaurants via the Government at this time, contact the Licensed and Leisure team at pubrating@harrislamb.com

Main image: iStock/Phynart Studio