Councils urged to stop applying Covid rules 'disproportionately'

Christopher Hope
·3-min read
Soho - Niklas Halle'N/AFP
Soho - Niklas Halle'N/AFP
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter ..

Councils have been told by ministers to stop applying Covid-19 rules "disproportionately" and threatening to punish pubs for failing to ensure social distancing outside.

Robert Jenrick, the Local Government secretary, wrote to council leaders urging them to ensure they work with pubs and bars that are trying to open safely and within the rules.

The Telegraph reported last week that pubs and bars were facing fines or the removal of their licences over queues on the street after officials threatened to crack down on the most popular venues.

Several councils have set up enforcement squads to patrol pubs and restaurants to look for customers breaking the rules. Investigations were threatened by councils into pubs in Coventry and Maidstone after locals queued to get into beer gardens.

Scuffles broke out over table reservations on Friday night as drinkers packed their local outdoor pubs and bars on the first Friday night out after lockdown restrictions were eased.

Tensions boiled over in some areas, with police having to intervene amid violent scenes in London's Soho district.

In the letter to all council chief executives and leaders in England, as seen by the Sunday Telegraph, Mr Jenrick said that official guidance on what is defined as an outdoor shelter had to be "applied proportionately and consistently in your areas to support businesses to reopen safely and to avoid overzealous interpretations of the rules.

"It is in the public interest that local residents can socialise in a licensed and controlled environment outside, where Covid-19 risks are lower.

"If a disproportionate regulatory approach is taken, it risks driving residents into unregulated activity and premises which may be far less Covid-secure and/or illegal."

Separately, the bosses of the UK’s biggest pubs, bars, restaurants, hotels and leisure groups have said that vaccine passports cannot be used as an excuse to "derail" the end of social distancing in nine weeks’ time.

The warning is set out in a letter in today’s Telegraph, signed by the leaders of 38 bar, pubs and restaurant chains, which between them employ two million staff at 70,000 sites. The UK hospitality industry is only estimated to employ 2.8 million staff at 110,000 sites.

Signatories include the head of the UK’s biggest pubs groups - Nick McKenzie, the chief executive of Greene King, Phil Urban, the chief executive of Mitchells & Butlers and Simon Emeny, the chief executive of Fullers.

Others include Steve Richards, chief executive of Parkdean Resorts, Gerry Ford, chairman of Caffe Nero and Nick Varney, chief executive of Merlin Entertainment which owns Legoland.

The industry leaders pointed out that Mr Johnson’s four-stage roadmap to ease lockdown culminated "in a pledge fully to reopen the economy, remove all legal restrictions on socialising and end social distancing on 21 June".

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: "The Government must listen to our hospitality businesses and change course. Instead of imposing all the extra costs and bureaucracy of Covid ID cards, Ministers should be supporting pubs, bars and restaurants to get back on their feet as we emerge from the pandemic."

Government sources have made clear to The Sunday Telegraph that a new app on which to run a vaccine passport will take "months, not weeks" to develop.