Tens of thousands of pubs, bars, nightclubs and gig venues will not survive increased coronavirus-prevention measures, such as local lockdowns and evening curfews, unless they receive fresh state support, the UK government has been warned.
One in four of the 115,000 licensed premises in Britain still had not reopened by the end of August after restrictions were imposed to contain Covid-19, according to data from the analysis firm CGA and AlixPartners.
With concern growing about rising infection rates, a ban on gatherings of more than six people comes into effect across England on Monday, while Scotland and Wales have their own amended restrictions.
The measures, coupled with local lockdowns, have stoked fears that a fledgling recovery among businesses that have managed to trade will be nipped in the bud, particularly if rumours of a 10pm curfew in England – or even 9pm in Scotland – prove to be true.
Richard Nattriss, who runs the Little Angel in Whitby, North Yorkshire, said a brief recent period of strong trading would grind to a halt in the event of a local lockdown, with government grants for affected businesses insufficient to pay staff.
“Middlesbrough’s our worry because it’s had a large increase and lots of people come down from there for a drink,” Nattriss said.
“If they bring it [coronavirus] to Whitby, nobody knows how much of a flare-up it’s got to be before we all get shut down.
“If that’s after October [when the furlough scheme ends] they’re prepared to give us £1,500 every three weeks but that’s not gonna pay anybody’s wages.
“That’s when you’d end up seeing redundancies and staff being laid off very quickly.”
Liz Hind, the landlady of the Old Millwrights Arms in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, said she was already feeling the pinch, with the the uplift from the eat out to help out scheme wearing off.
“New rules come in on Monday and I’ve had parties who’ve cancelled because they can’t have any more than six people inside or outside,” she said.
“We know we need to do our bit and we may need to close again for the good of public health but we shouldn’t be abandoned if there is that requirement.
“I live above the pub, so if I lose it I lose my home because it’s a commercial premises, so I’m not even covered by the laws on evictions. It’s bleak.”
Hind, a former Labour parliamentary candidate, called on the government to heed the opposition party’s call to extend the furlough scheme to support pubs and bars.
Paul Crossman, who runs three pubs in York, backed the proposal.
“People are at the limit of their reserves, so any more lockdowns now would be the nail in the coffin of the operators of those small pubs,” he said.
The British Beer and Pub Association called for a sector-specific furlough scheme beyond October as well as extended VAT cuts, business rate relief and a cut to beer duty, which the chief executive, Emma McClarkin, said “remains punitively high”.
Nightclubs have previously warned they face “financial armageddon” after being excluded from the relaxation of restrictions that allowed many pubs to open in July.
Michael Kill, the chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said: “With no roadmap for reopening or further indication of financial support, it’s causing quite a considerable level of distress and anger.”
He pointed to a looming crunch point at the end of September, when state-funded furlough payments are reduced and a moratorium on forfeiture of commercial premises for non-payment of rent comes to an end.
“People will have to make some quite drastic decisions,” Kill said.
“At some point there has to be a realisation that there are going to be businesses and jobs lost.”