Government’s pub closure decision welcomed after week in ‘limbo’

By Tom Pilgrim, PA

The Government’s decision to close down British pubs while helping pay staff has been met with relief by some in the industry previously trapped in “limbo”.

Publicans have been asked to close their doors as soon as they can on Friday night and not open again.

Takeaway services will still be permitted under the new measures announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The Wetherspoon pub chain, which previously said it wanted to keep premises open, said it would comply with Mr Johnson’s announcement.

Nik Antona, national chairman of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), said: “Whilst the pubs industry will be devastated by the decision to force closure, it is exactly the type of decisive leadership that has been called for this week as many pubs hung in limbo.

“Pubs and the wider hospitality industry now have clear instruction that closing their doors is the right thing to do and the confidence that the Government will support their staff and their business.”

Tim Foster, co-founder of The Yummy Pub Co, which runs four pubs in and around London, said the new measures were overdue but would stop his 89 members of staff being laid off.

“I’m unbelievably relieved. On Monday there was no business next Friday, which I spent 12 years building,” he said.

Mr Foster said managers had been consoling “crying” staff daily as trade plummeted and the future of the business looked uncertain.

He said closing down pubs was “absolutely the right thing to do” but admitted it would feel “horrific” to close his sites later on Friday night.

The pubs will continue to offer takeaways and deliver meals for vulnerable people, with staff also able to volunteer to help the NHS.

Mr Foster said keeping pubs open and paying staff had been a “huge moral dilemma” and something he estimated had cost the business three years worth of trade.

“The only reason that I have stayed open and trading is to protect my people,” he said.

“I felt it necessary, having not been told… to close by the Government, which they could have done a week ago.”

Mr Foster added: “It’s a welcome relief, it’s five days of hell that we didn’t need, but it’s welcomed with open arms.”

The British Beer and Pub Association said the Chancellor’s new measures would help “safeguard thousands of livelihoods”.

Chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “The Government has been clear that pubs must now shut down. The safety and wellbeing of people is our priority.

“We stand ready to play our part in the fight against Covid-19 and, in the process, protecting our communities and employees.

“As a sector employing nearly one million people, the Chancellor’s support package announced today on staff wages will safeguard thousands of livelihoods and help closed pubs try to get through this difficult period.”

Camra also said it was concerned over protection for the British independent brewing industry and called for beer duty to be deferred.

It also argued licensing laws should be relaxed immediately to make it easier for pubs to offer takeaway drinks as well as food.

A spokeswoman for Greene King said all its pubs would be closing on Friday night.

She added: “We are looking at other ways we can support our regulars while we are closed, including offering a takeaway and delivery service from some of our pubs.

“This is already available in all our Metropolitan pubs in London and some of our Greene King and Hungry Horse pubs across the country and we will expand this over the coming weeks.”