The government this week performed two u-turns that should help hospitality businesses weather a “bleak-looking winter period”.
First, pubs were given the green light to sell takeaway beer. Some estimates suggest that some 7.5 million pints of beer will be saved. Orders will need to be made by phone, web or post.
Then yesterday, as England went into a second national lockdown, the chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the extension of the UK’s coronavirus furlough scheme until the end of March, with employees receiving 80% of their wages.
Employers will still have to pay the cost of employer NICs and pension contributions for hours not worked. The policy will be reviewed in January to decide whether businesses are then in a position to “contribute more”.
Sunak said: “Extending furlough and increasing our support for the self-employed will protect millions of jobs and give people and businesses the certainty they need over what will be a difficult winter.”
Industry representatives and business groups welcomed the extension of the coronavirus job retention scheme, but called for further support. The likes of UKHospitality and the CBI urged the government to look further ahead, to set out a plan for reviving businesses next year so the much-hyped green recovery can finally get underway.
“The Chancellor has built a bridge for business to Spring 2021 and taken much needed steps to help firms across the UK survive this winter,” said CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith. “Sectors and supply chains under the greatest strain may need more tailored support in the coming weeks. The covid crisis makes the next six months even more crucial for government to pursue its levelling-up ambitions and work towards a net-zero economy.”
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls called for a “clear roadmap” for a return to business. With it, the extended furlough scheme is “not enough to keep hospitality alive and will have been a wasted investment of public funds”, she warned. “Surviving the winter is just the first step, too. Beyond that we need action to ensure that businesses can be revived and the sector can play its part in rebuilding the economy.”
In a joint letter to the chancellor earlier this week, UKHospitality, the British Beer and Pub Association, British Institute of Innkeeping, Campaign for Real Ale, Society of Independent Brewers and Pub is the Hub said: “By every conceivable measure, it makes sense for the Government to support hospitality and pub businesses as well as their supply chain partners. We can be in the vanguard of economic recovery next year, driving growth, creating jobs and providing billions in vital tax revenues into the future, but only if we survive this perilous moment.”
The government also made clear that brewery shops can remain open and operate as off-licences, meaning bottled and canned beer from small breweries can be sold via on-site shops without pre-order, he said.
In the first lockdown 70 million pints were thought to have been left on pub premises. Water UK even warned that wildlife could be harmed if large quantities of beer are washed away and end up rivers and waterways.
However, Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, told the BBC that the change was “not anywhere near enough”.
"Supermarkets and off-licences can still sell alcohol, so this is grossly unfair on pubs with off-licences. It remains the case that to help pubs and brewers survive, and to stop up to 7.5 million pints from being wasted, the government needs to give pubs the same ability to sell off-licence alcohol as it did in the first lockdown."