Industry reaction to the Government’s COVID Winter Plan

The Prime Minister has today (23 November 2020) published the Government’s COVID Winter Plan, (that you can download below, together with a diagram showing a summary of the measures under each of the three tiers).

Under the Winter Plan:

  • national restrictions will end on 2 December 2020, with England returning to local tiers,
  • tiers will be toughened in some areas to safeguard gains, and ensure testing and vaccines can have maximum impact
    • In tier 1, the Government will reinforce the importance of working from home wherever possible.
    • In tier 2, pubs and bars must close unless they are serving substantial meals (like a full breakfast, main lunchtime or evening meal), along with accompanying drinks.
    • In tier 3, all hospitality will close except for delivery, takeaway and drive-through; hotels and other accommodation providers must close (except for specific exemptions, including people staying for work purposes or where they cannot return home); and indoor entertainment venues must also close, and
  • the Prime Minister will announce on 26 November which area will be in each tier, based on latest data.

You can also download below the Government guidance entitled “Local restriction tiers: what you need to know”, which its says: “sets out the local restriction tier system that will be in place from Wednesday 2 December, including what you can and cannot do in each tier”.

UKHospitality has reacted by describing the Winter Plan as a “Tightened tier system a straitjacket on hospitality”, continuing:

The Government’s new, tighter tier system is at best a restrictive straitjacket and at worst a lockdown in all but name for hospitality businesses, according to UKHospitality.

The trade body has warned that the measures, which will see businesses in tier 3 permitted to provide takeaway only and those in tier 2 restricted to substantial meals, will lead to permanent closures and job losses.

UKHospitality Chief Executive Kate Nicholls said:

“The Government is making a point of saying that these measures are needed in order to save Christmas. In reality, they are killing Christmas and beyond for many businesses and their customers who look forward to, and rely on, venues being open at this time of year. Sadly, for many staff, it will be a Christmas out of work.

If there needs to be a tightening of restrictions, it should not come at the expense of hospitality. Only a small fraction of cases have been linked to our businesses and venues have shown that they can provide safe environments for customers and staff. If the Government pursues this course of action, it is going to mean permanent closures and job losses.

Tier 3 will be lockdown in everything but name for hospitality and will leave businesses almost no room for manoeuvre. With household mixing still not permitted, businesses in tier 2 are going to find revenues severely slashed at a crucial time for the sector.

Immediate financial support must now be rapidly increased as many businesses will be forced to close, in some cases permanently. Our member survey has shown the current Tier 3 restrictions, which will now effectively apply to Tier 2 areas, will see 94% of hospitality businesses operate at a loss or simply become unviable. The new Tier 3 simply means no chance of trading out of this. Government must also confirm that the increased State Aid cap of €3m will be applied – as this is preventing the distribution of grants to tens of thousands of businesses employing nearly a million people.

Adding a degree of flexibility to the mandatory curfew will help with dispersal of customers, but it doesn’t change the fact that businesses won’t be able generate revenues after 10pm.

The big stumbling block for businesses is the lack of household mixing. This will be a huge hit that will be felt all the harder because it is almost Christmas. The Government could throw the sector a lifeline if it adopted the Welsh model of limited household mixing to let people socialise safely without jeopardising public or business health.”

The Government’s damning roadmap out of the lockdown for hospitality (in England) follows fresh Europe-wide research from YouGov suggesting that the UK population feels most able to adhere to social distancing and other COVID-safety requirements in hospitality venues versus other out-of-home settings. The survey of 2,269 adults in the UK found that 14% of the public found it difficult to distance in restaurants, bars and cafes versus 51% in retail settings, 29% in shopping centres and 27% on public transport.

It also found that the vast majority of people’s priority safeguards were being matched in hospitality, with most members of the public prioritising spread-out seating, hand sanitiser, and other good hygiene practises, plus servers and guests wearing face masks.

The BBPA was equally negative, writing that the “new tier rules unfairly target pubs and will destroy sector”, calling on the Government to provide evidence behind its decision to single out pubs and stating that far more financial support will be needed for pubs and brewers if the measures go ahead as proposed:

The British Beer & Pub Association, the leading trade association representing brewers and pubs, has today responded to the Prime Minister’s announcement on new tighter tier restrictions to come into place when the lockdown ends on December 2nd.

Emma McClarkin, Chief Executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said:

“Our sector has been singled out by these new measures which unfairly target pubs. The additional restrictions will destroy our sector if they go ahead as proposed. Whilst the review of curfew is overdue the relaxation of the 10pm curfew is meaningless if most pubs are rendered unviable or forced to close under tiers two and three.

We’re calling on the Government to provide the evidence behind its decision to single out pubs. The publicly available evidence from Public Health England (1) shows that hospitality has been linked to just 1% of total infections. Our own survey of members with 22,500 venues across the UK found just 1% had been linked by NHS test and trace to a COVID incidence (2). A recent study by the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking even found that people find pubs amongst the easiest places to adhere to social distancing, more so than many other venues and socialising within other people’s homes (3).

We are genuinely concerned the decision announced today has not taken this evidence into account. Pubs are COVID-secure, following all Government guidelines, serving to tables, enforcing social distancing and working hand in hand with NHS test and trace.

If these tighter tier restrictions are forced upon us, far more Government financial support will be needed to avoid the resulting carnage. In tier two alone, the new restrictions will mean 90% of pubs will be unviable and will only be able to operate at a loss. In tier three, no pub is viable if restricted to takeaway only. This will also mean our brewing businesses will be hugely damaged too.

The current grants are not even enough to cover fixed costs in a pub, and now must compensate for the revenue pubs and breweries will lose as a result of these additional restrictions. Without an enhanced grants package of support for pubs and brewers thousands of businesses are doomed to fail, destroying thousands of livelihoods and communities across the UK.

We are asking the Government to reconsider their approach and allow pubs to play their vital role in local communities over the festive period, bringing people together safely and providing some much-needed festive cheer this Christmas, and essential trade to keep our locals alive.”

The Betting and Gaming Council responded with a mixed message, by thanking the Government for allowing betting shops to re-open in Tier 3 areas, but nevertheless vowing to continue to press for the full and safe reopening of casinos. In a article it has written as follows:

The Betting and Gaming Council has welcomed the Government’s decision to let betting shops re-open in Tier 3 areas with severe restrictions in place – but vows to continue to press for the full and safe reopening of casinos too.

Boris Johnson confirmed the move as he set out details of how England will come out of the national lockdown from December 3.

BGC chief executive Michael Dugher also vowed to keep fighting for the re-opening of casinos, which have been told they must stay closed in Tier 3.

At the moment, betting shops are the only part of non-essential High Street retail which must close their doors in Tier 3 areas.

Under the new arrangements, they will be allowed to stay open with some restrictions in place, including limits on customers, the removal of chairs and a ban on live sport being shown.

These are on top of the anti-Covid measures which betting shops have already installed, including hand sanitisers, Perspex screens, track and trace systems and strict social distancing.

Michael Dugher said:

“This is great news for our customers in communities across large parts of England and for the thousands of people employed in high street betting shops. I know how hard in particular the DCMS battled for their sectors and ministers deserve our sincere thanks.

On top of the stringent anti-Covid measures betting shops already adhere to, our members have agreed to further restrictions to limit any chance of Covid being transmitted in their premises.

We now look forward to England coming out of lockdown next week, with betting shops back contributing to the Exchequer and playing their part in helping power the country’s economic recovery.”

He added:

“It’s also great that limited numbers of spectators will be allowed back to watch live sport in Tiers 1 and 2. The ban on crowds has been devastating for sports like horse racing and football, so this sensible step comes at just the right time.”

However, Mr Dugher expressed disappointment that casinos will have to remain closed in Tier 3 areas. He said:

“Casinos are best-in-class amongst the hospitality sector when it comes to anti-Covid measures. There is no evidence that they contribute to the spread of the virus.

So it remains extremely disappointing that they are still being ordered to close in Tier 3 areas.

We do welcome the decision to extend the hospitality curfew by an hour to 11pm, but we will continue to make the case that casinos are uniquely exposed to any curfew and we will press for their full and safe reopening in all parts of the country.”

The BGC boss also backed the Government’s move to let limited numbers of spectators watch live sport in Tier 1 and Tier 2 areas. He said:

“It’s great that some crowds will be allowed back to watch live sport in Tiers 1 and 2. The ban has been devastating for sports like horse racing and football, so this sensible step comes at just the right time.”

UPDATE: You can read more recent news on our subsequent website posting entitled “COVID-19 tier toughening continues apace across England”

Download article PDF: COVID-19 Winter Plan November 2020
Download article PDF: Summary of measures under tiers