The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) and sector business leaders have urged the government to give a clear timeline and date for when pubs can reopen, and have put forward a roadmap to reopening as it was revealed that sales of beer have plummeted by 56% in 2020 – down by £7.8b.
The roadmap stated that following vaccination of the most vulnerable, pubs must reopen when non-essential retail and other parts of the hospitality sector reopen. It also said that mandatory trading restrictions – such as alcoholic drinks served only with a substantial meal, no mixed households and the 10pm curfew – must be removed when pubs reopen.
On the reopening of the sector, the BBPA also said the government will need to continue to provide financial support in the form of a stimulus package to ensure businesses do not fail due to unsustainable debt built up during the lockdowns. It said an extension to the VAT cut and business rates holiday will be essential, as well as a significant beer duty cut, to help pubs trade profitably and start to recover.
Without such a plan to reopen, trade viably and give further economic support to stimulate recovery, the BBPA said thousands of local pubs will fail due to their unsustainable debt and cash burn levels, resulting in local jobs and local pubs throughout the UK being lost for good.
In Q2 2020 alone, which incorporated the first full Covid-19 lockdown, pub beer sales dropped by 96%. In Q4 2020, when tier restrictions were placed on pubs, as well as a second full lockdown, pub beer sales dropped by 77% in comparison to the prior year.
Despite being able to open under fewer restrictions in Q3 2020, a temporary VAT cut on food and soft drinks and the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, pub beer sales were still down 27% for the quarter.
Philip Whitehead, chairman of the BPPA, said restrictions on the sector would "destroy" pubs' ability to operate as viable businesses when venues are already holding debt and "have little to no cash left".
Mark Davies, chief executive of Hawthorn, said an extension of the business rates holiday and VAT cut were an "urgent priority"; while Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, said: "without publicans having clarity on reopening and additional support, there is a real risk of more viable businesses closing their doors in the weeks and months ahead".