Social distancing: Fear pubs will 'go bust' unless rules relaxed

By Paul Pigott
BBC News

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media captionSA Brain chief executive Alistair Darby: "The industry is running out of time rapidly"

Many Welsh pubs will go bust - putting thousands of jobs at risk - unless social distancing measures are relaxed, the boss of Wales' biggest brewery has said.

Pubs and bars have been closed since the start of lockdown in March.

Now the boss of Brains has said even if they are allowed to reopen this summer, many will not be able to due to the two-metre social distancing rule.

The Welsh Government said lockdown would only be eased when it is safe to.

Pubs, bars and restaurants across the UK were told to close on 20 March, as social distancing rules came into force to limit the spread of coronavirus.

In Wales, there is currently no date for them to reopen, while in England the UK government has suggested they will reopen "no earlier than 4 July", if Covid-19 safety guidelines could be met.

The Welsh Government is due to make an announcement on lockdown measures on Friday.

But Alistair Darby, the CEO of Brains, Wales largest domestic pub chain, said many brewers, caterers and landlords had depleted their reserves and time was now running out to save the industry.

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image captionThe Duke of Wellington pub is one of Brains' many pubs in Cardiff

Brains, which employs 1,400 people in Wales, is initially planning to reopen only 40 of its 104 Welsh pubs, with it predicting demand to be at about a third of what it was before the pandemic.

Social distancing rules, in place since the start of the pandemic, mean people must remain two metres (6ft) apart in a bid to curb the spread of the virus.

In Wales, employers are required by law to make sure employees can maintain social distancing while at work, and can be fined if not.

But Mr Darby said this rule needed to be eased to one metre if pubs were to survive, while another pub landlord in Swansea said enforcing the distance would be a "logistical nightmare".

Mr Darby said: "The industry is running out of time rapidly, you can't choke off an industry's turnover and expect it to be able to survive, even with substantial government support.

"All business needs certainty and we aren't getting that at the moment, and the longer the uncertainty continues the more people are going to lose their jobs."

Before the pandemic, Brains announced the closure of 40 of its pubs, with staff told their jobs could be at risk and the company blaming economic uncertainty - partly caused by Brexit, for the closures.

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image captionJD Wetherspoon said all 50 of its pubs in Wales would open on the first day they were allowed to

In 2019, the number of UK pubs and bars increased for the first time in a decade after years of concerns about closures, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

But a survey in April by the British Beer and Pub Association [BBPA] found that 40% of pubs in the UK now said they would not survive until September, due to lockdown.

According to the BBPA, the beer and pub industry employs 42,000 people in Wales and is worth £950m to the economy.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the BBPA, said businesses were "burning through cash" during lockdown and many would not be able to reopen.

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image captionSocial distancing will mean pubs not being able to sit as many customers as usual

David Morgan has owned the Cross Inn pub in Maesteg for 28 years and started brewing a decade ago.

After having to furlough four staff, he is now running the brewery with his wife to try and keep the business afloat.

Mr Morgan said if social distancing rules were not relaxed he would only be able to have 12 people in the Cross Inn at one time, which he said would not make it viable to reopen.

"You see beaches are chock-a-block in England, and these protests, there's no social distancing," Mr Morgan said.

"It's time for people to take responsibility for their own safety. Valley towns, in general, were starting to get the high street back on its feet and now it's going to be devastated."

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image captionGreen King, which manages the Claude, said it had plans for opening its 30 pubs across Wales

Sara John, owns BOSS Brewery in Swansea, which sells 80% of its beer to pubs, and also runs a pub in the city.

The lockdown has meant furloughing most staff, but Ms John said they had been doing everything they could to make sales through a new online shop.

"Retailers have seen a surge in beer sales so that's ticked over nicely and we've started to work with beer subscription companies," said Ms John.

She said the beer only had a three-week shelf life and the Welsh Government needed to give a firm date for the reopening of pubs so they can plan production.

Ms John added that opening the pub would not be feasible, and enforcing social distancing would be a "logistical nightmare" when people had been drinking.

"We estimate 25 people, though there is talk of some pubs using beer garden and street access. But if we see strict queuing rules like in supermarkets we will serve less people," she said.

"And if the public is not feeling safe they won't show up. So better to stay closed then opening to people who won't come."

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