York landlord welcomes move to reopen pubs – but fears many will go under without more help

A server in PPE at a Greene King pub in Cambridge. Photograph: Adam Smyth/Greene King
23 Jun 2020 @ 8.04 pm
| Food & drink

A York licensee today welcomed news that pubs can reopen in England from 4 July – but warned without more help, many could close for good.

Paul Crossman, licensee of The Swan, The Slip Inn and Volunteer Arms in York, said the move would allow certain pubs to open safely, but by no means all.

Under the announcement today (Tuesday), pubs and restaurants can reopen both outdoors and indoors in what ministers describe as a “covid-secure way” with more hand-washing and ventilation.

“All hospitality indoors will be limited to table service and our guidance will encourage minimal staff and customer contact,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.

“We will ask businesses to help NHS Test and Trace respond to any local outbreaks by collecting contact details from customers as happens in other countries and we will work with the sector to make this manageable.”

Paul, who is also chair of the national Campaign for Pubs, said many pubs cannot trade sustainably under these new conditions.

Protect community assets

Pub campaigner Paul Crossman. Photograph: Gavin Aitchison

Pubs that can’t open under the restrictions, due to their size and layout, face closure.

Paul said: “For a great many pubs, especially smaller community pubs which generally rely on key periods of high-density trade to be viable, these measures will not make a return to sustainable trade possible.

“We trust the government will respect the tough decisions that will have to be made in many cases, and will recognise the importance of continuing to protect these normally viable and hugely valued community assets by extending the support necessary to allow them to survive and reopen when the time is right.”

He said that more details are needed on what government support is available to enable pubs meet the new requirement to collect customer data. And with 11 days to go, that help is needed urgently.

“There is still a lack of clarity over a number of things including whether licensing restrictions will be eased to allow outdoor service and use of all available spaces to make it more possible to trade viably,” said the Campaign For Pubs.

It said the 11-day notice is also unfair to independent brewers, many of whom asked for longer to be able to brew and supply pubs, which puts them at a unfair disadvantage compared to the large and global breweries.

Paul has also said that The Swan won’t open on 4 July, owing to “all the pinch points, and narrow corridors and small rooms”. This was a video update he posted on 17 June:

Thought I would just post a quick update.

Posted by Paul Swan York on Wednesday, 17 June 2020

What the Campaign wants to see

The Campaign for Pubs has issued 10 Points to Save Pubs. Two of these have been met – but this is what it thinks is required to ensure pubs can survive and rebuild.

  1. definite date for opening – now delivered
  2. Social distancing of 1 metre – now delivered
  3. Clear full guidance for pubs and insurance companies – not yet delivered – pubs need real clarity about any physical infrastructure requirements, and also about specific responsibilities and liability issues, so that they can be properly insured under fair policies which will be honoured
  4. Relaxation of licensing restrictions where extra spaces would help smaller pubs operate more viably and safely – not confirmed
  5. strong mandatory Covid-19 rent code of conduct including a statutory right to a rent review for all pub tenants – must be delivered
  6. A rent-free period for all pubs, and an extended period of protection from landlords if rent cannot be paid – must be urgently delivered
  7. Continued financial support for staff – extended fully-paid furlough where pubs are unable to viably/safely trade due to continued Government restrictions – must be delivered
  8. VAT to 5% for at least 12 months – the only sensible way to help with reduced margins, as any price increases would reduce trade even further – must be delivered
  9. Business rates reform – announced now and implemented in April 2021 – and rates relief for all pubs until a reformed system comes in – must be announced, then delivered
  10. A 12 month ban on all change of use for pubs – pubs need protection in the planning system now even more than ever – must be urgently implemented as pubs are already being forced to close and licensees are already walking away and being driven out by rent demands