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Welsh Covid fire-break ‘devastating’ for pubs

Alistair Derby, chief executive of Welsh brewer and pub chain Brains, has called the 16-day Welsh ‘fire-break’ “devastating news”, particularly after the effect of local restrictions introduced last month.

Brains, which operates around 200 pubs in Wales, has days to run down its stocks and close its pubs for 16 days.

Wales announced that it would impose the short period of lockdown yesterday, known as a ‘fire-break”, from 6pm Friday (23 October) and ending on Monday 9 November.

Under the new restrictions, all non-food retail hospitality businesses, including cafés, restaurants and pubs must close, however they are permitted to remain open if they provide take-away or delivery services.

Derby said some 3,000 pubs in Wales will now be forced to close, just months after they were allowed to reopen in August.

He told the drinks business that while trading for the company was better than predicted in August, September saw its turnover drop.

“We were running at level that we kind of expected, but we could manage although it wasn’t great,” he said.

Then came the local restrictions, enforced in many areas across Wales. “The impact of that, plus two-metre social distancing, and moving into autumn, has meant that, having been running at about 20% down in September, which was just manageable, we’ve dropped back and are running at between 40 and 45% down,” Derby said. “And this is before this latest lockdown was announced.”

His company now faces the challenge of running down its stores of perishable stock before pubs close at 6pm this Friday.

“We could have a situation where by Thursday evening, a pub has sold all its perishable food and drink, and it would be daft to open anything new. We might have to close the pub on Thursday evening, because that would be the sensible thing to do,” Derby said.

While he believes the company will “manage” the lockdown, he said it will have a “very significant” impact on the brewery.

“We have a modern brewery that is capable of brewing 24 batches of beer a week. Last week we brewed three and this week we’ll brew one. We’re already effectively running the brewery down to nothing, which is awful for the lads there,” he said.

Derby has also criticised the clarity regarding the support measures available.

“The details of the support that will be made available to us that we can pass onto our employees, who are not going to be working, is unclear,” he said. “There’s been a wrangle between Welsh government and central government over the enhanced job protection scheme, and it has not been resolved. As businesses we’re being expected to move rapidly to shut down without out there being the kind of detail and clarity of support that we need.”

Welsh distiller Penderyn agrees. A spokesperson told db: “Our main concern is the lack of information around Covid. What is the UK government’s plan, not just with Covid but with Brexit? In the absence of proper information, business is continuing as normal despite the uncertainty. As far as the Welsh fire-break is concerned, clearly if lives can be saved and the Welsh NHS protected then we have to respect that. Our shop remains open, but we can’t do tours, so have set up virtual tastings which have been very successful.”

In a statement, the Welsh government said that a £300 million support package was available to help businesses through the period.

In addition, small and medium-sized hospitality businesses are entitled to a one-off payment of up to £5,000, while a £80 million fund to help companies in the long term has been increased to £100 million. This includes £20 million which is intended solely for the tourism and hospitality sectors.

People living in Wales are now not allowed to meet with other households indoors or outdoors, and must work from home where possible.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), has said many pubs in Wales will be “destroyed” if more financial support is not made available.

She said: “There are more than 3,000 pubs in Wales already struggling with the 10pm curfew, rule of six, lower levels of consumer confidence and tourism, in addition to the more recent travel ban. A forced full closure will leave many of them fighting for their very survival.

“The financial support package leaves many businesses impacted by this forced closure with no additional help. We need the cash grants to fully cover lost revenue and high fixed costs for all pubs including those with a rateable value above £50k. 37,000 jobs linked to the sector are at risk too without more support.”

Derby said that Brains would do everything in its power to get “the vast majority of pubs back open” on 9 November.

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