The British pub is safer than a supermarket, yet now it faces oblivion

The British pub is safer than a supermarket aisle – yet now, through utter foolishness, it faces oblivion, writes Young’s pubs chief executive PATRICK DARDIS

Patrick Dardis, Chief Executive of Young’s Pubs brewery group

The disastrous and counter-productive extension of lockdowns announced by the Government yesterday is a catastrophe from which the pub trade will never fully recover.

By banning household mixing in pubs in London and beyond, Boris Johnson is condemning hundreds of thousands of the 1.3million people who work in it to the scrapheap of unemployment.

And millions more will have their social lives grievously disrupted. Personally, I am still in a state of shock from the realisation that as of tomorrow, I will be forbidden to meet my own son for a pint.

Mr Johnson might respond by suggesting we go to the pub garden – which is still allowed in groups of up to six – but I’m afraid this merely underlines how this government fails to understand human nature. Drinking outside is scarcely a tempting prospect as autumn makes way for the hard chill of November.

When the first shutdown was eased back in July, Britain’s 60,000 or so publicans spent tens of millions of pounds turning their pubs into biosecure sanctuaries from the national trauma of Covid – becoming experts on virology and the installation of Perspex screens overnight.

Extra staff were recruited and trained, facemasks were procured and bottles of hand gel appeared where once there had been bowls of peanuts.

Our pubs are now safer than most supermarket aisles, yet we are the ones facing oblivion, writes Patrick Dardis, Chief Executive of Young Pubs

Pub staff became recruiters for track and trace, urging drinkers to download and use the government app. They kept their side of the bargain by making their premises safe, preventing the build-up of large crowds of standing drinkers outside and coming down hard when the pub threatened to get rowdy. 

The brewery I run, Young & Co, has 300 pubs. Due to the dedication of our publicans and staff, I can report that across the entire pub estate, we have had precisely three members of staff and six customers notify us of a positive Covid test since July.

Our pubs are now safer than most supermarket aisles, yet we are the ones facing oblivion. Public Health England says pubs and restaurants account for less than three per cent of transmissions; our experience suggests the figure is much lower than that.

The pubs did their bit – and much more – and yesterday the Government responded with drastic new measures in London and other cities which will tip thousands of them into oblivion.

This is the second hammer blow the trade has suffered, coming as it does after last month’s abrupt and entirely pointless 10pm curfew.

This actually increased the threat by creating ‘Petri-bubbles’ of cross-infection in city streets as people simultaneously trudged home or crammed on to public transport.

When pubs were allowed to reopen in July, we estimated cautiously that about 5,000 pubs would not survive.

Patrick Dardis: When pubs were allowed to reopen in July, we estimated cautiously that about 5,000 pubs would not survive. Pictured: People wearing face masks in Covent Garden in central London walk past the White Lion pub

But after the reckless introduction of the curfew, which predictably killed trade, I doubled this figure to 10,000. Now, with regional Tier Two restrictions covering half of England’s population, I think we will lose a third – that’s 20,000 British pubs.

I hesitate even to contemplate the number of job losses but certainly it will be several hundred thousand. The same contempt has also been shown towards restaurants, still subject to the 10pm curfew, which literally no one in the industry understands and no minister has even tried to justify.

I’m afraid that Boris Johnson’s decision to take the path of least resistance and cave in to his scientific advisers and muddle-headed epidemic ‘modellers’ is the last straw for the UK’s once booming hospitality trade.

London is becoming a wasteland of shuttered pubs, restaurants and theatres, and it is not Covid that is doing the damage but Mr Johnson’s abysmally ill-considered response.

If you want to know how foolish this move against pubs is, just watch the queues of shoppers buying up supermarket wine and lager this weekend.

Much of it will be consumed at the sort of rowdy, unpoliced parties that the Government says it wants to stop. And it is insane to believe that this sort of drunken housepartying poses less risk of virus transmission than a well-run pub.

My advice to regular drinkers who are no longer allowed to meet friends for a drink in their local is not to spend the coming weeks fantasising about that first pint with friends.

Because by the time the new lockdowns are lifted and Mr Johnson deems it safe for you to go back to your local pub, the chances are you will find it has permanently closed. 

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