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Trade reels from Welsh trading restrictions

Published:  01 December, 2020

The drinks trade has reacted angrily to the Welsh government’s new restrictions on pubs and restaurants, announced yesterday.

Under the new regime, hospitality businesses will be forced to close at 6pm and will not be allowed to sell alcohol.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, warned that the move “will destroy the sector”.

“Evenings are the key trading period for pubs and enjoying a beer, with or without a meal, is one of life’s simple pleasures – forcing pubs to close at 6pm and banning alcohol sales all but closes them down in reality,” she said.

James Calder, chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers, described the decision as “the final blow for small breweries and pubs” in Wales.

“Pubs represent more than 80% of all sales for Welsh small breweries and we have seen throughout the Covid crisis that these small businesses have been left out in the cold and not had access to the level of financial support they need. Without real, targeted support many small breweries will not survive the winter period,” he said.

The timing of the restrictions are particularly damaging, since businesses can often take a quarter or more of the year’s turnover during the festive season.

“The new restrictions are a massive blow to hospitality in Wales as well as our loyal customers and workforce as we head towards Christmas and the New Year,” David Chapman, executive director of UK Hospitality Cymru, said.

“We feel isolated and feel we are unjustly bearing the brunt of government actions when retail and other areas are allowed to trade relatively unhindered.”

There has also been a muted welcome for the financial support for the sector, announced by the Welsh government at the same time.

The sector has been offered a package worth some £340m, which includes an Economic Resilience Fund which could be worth up to £150k per business. Both hospitality and tourism businesses, together with their supply chains, are eligible.

“Such severe restrictions necessitated a similarly large package of support to offset the measures and ensure that businesses stay alive and jobs remain open. There are still losers in this package and some of our bigger hotels could still be in inadequately assisted,” Chapman said.

“There is still a long way to do before the sector is anywhere near to being out of the woods, but the quick and pragmatic approach to support being shown by the Welsh government will give more businesses a better chance of making it through.

“Even with the financial support, this could be a hurdle too many,” Chapman warned.

Commenting on the new funding for the sector, McClarkin said: “Such support is an absolute necessity if Welsh pubs and breweries are to survive this Christmas and be there to re-open and help lead the economic recovery in the future. It is vital too that this support gets through current State Aid restrictions so that all pubs who need it have access to it.”  

Meanwhile in Scotland over 60 leading figures in the hospitality sector have written to the first minister to highlight the devastating impact restrictions are having on the industry.

Key demands in the letter include greater financial support to avoid job losses and business closures, an extension to the business rate and waiter and VAT cut into 2021/22, and weekly reviews of the restrictions under which businesses can trade in the government’s four-level pandemic-response system.

Willie Macleod, UK Hospitality executive director for Scotland, said: “There’s no credible evidence that hospitality is a leading culprit in Covid transmission. Businesses have poured money into venues to make them safe and, overwhelmingly, the public feels confident in the steps that they have taken.

“Our sector wants to be at the heart of the Scottish government’s plans to tackle Covid, by supporting communities socially and economically. Businesses can only do that if they are allowed the flexibility they need to survive.”

In England, Boris Johnson is expected to announce further support for pubs and restaurants in a bid to stave off a major backbench rebellion.

"There will be a bit of extra cash” for wet pubs, a senior government source told the Daily Telegraph.

The Labour Party has indicated it will not back the latest government measures without greater financial aid for the hospitality sector.