A ban on takeaway pints during lockdown could be the “death knell for many pubs”, the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) has warned.
Camra chairman Nik Antona’s words come after the new coronavirus restrictions banned alcohol from being sold with any other takeaway services offered by pubs and restaurants.
Mr Antona said the Chancellor’s one-off grant support of up to £9,000 for hospitality businesses was “welcome” but added: “It is nowhere near enough to cover the hemorrhaging costs for pubs and breweries.”
Many licensees interpreted the new lockdown rules as preventing them from selling takeaway beer from their own premises – but allowing them to deliver alcohol and food to customers’ homes.
The licensee of the Royal Oak in Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire, described the rules governing pubs as “mad” and called for a “level field” with supermarkets.
Katy Boulter told the PA news agency: “From what I can gather, people can’t come and collect beer, even if it’s pre-ordered.
“We have to deliver it to them – that’s the only way we can sell alcohol.
“It’s just ridiculous. It’s another kick in the teeth that we just don’t need.”
The Marston’s licensee also questioned why the authorities and the media had blamed bars for the spread of Covid-19 when her village pub – already made Covid-safe – had been shut since November.
“I think we are the biggest, easiest scapegoat and we have been from the start,” she said.
“All we want is leeway on a level field with everything else that’s allowed to be open – but we’re just not. It’s mad.”
Responding to the latest restrictions, Mr Antona said: “The national lockdown is yet another devastating blow for an already struggling industry, which follows hot on the heels of nearly a year of restrictions, curfews and forced closures.
“It is clear now more than ever that the Government must introduce a new, long-term and sector-specific financial support package to help these businesses survive the coming months.
“While one-off grant support is welcome, it is nowhere near enough to cover the hemorrhaging costs for pubs and breweries that don’t see any end in sight.”
Rishi Sunak’s latest support package is set to cost the treasury £4.6 billion, but the Camra chairman said supermarkets and off-licences had an “unfair advantage” following confusion over whether pubs would be able to operate on a “level playing field”.
Mr Antona continued: “What is particularly concerning in the latest announcement has been the confusion around whether pubs will be able to operate on a level playing field with supermarkets and off-licences during this lockdown – as they have been able to previously.
“Takeaway sales, in sealed containers, for people to take home, were a real lifeline for the trade in previous lockdowns and restricting that route to market now would be a death knell for many pubs.
“This will once again provide an unfair advantage to supermarkets and off-licences that don’t face similar restrictions.”
The manager of The Unicorn pub in Wollaston, Stourbridge, West Midlands, expressed sadness at the decision to stop the sale of takeaway beer.
Mary Bagley told the PA news agency recent sales of pints in sealed cartons near the front door of the Bathams Brewery pub had been conducted literally over a barrel to ensure social distancing – with a card reader for payments.
She said: “It was nice to speak to people that we hadn’t seen for a while and that’s all going to stop.”
Ms Bagley, who is on furlough, added: “It’s sad, really sad, but you can’t do anything about it.”
Urging the Government to provide a “dedicated and decent financial support package”, Mr Antona said: “The Government must recognise that local pubs are a force for good and play an important role in bringing people together, tackling loneliness and social isolation, and supporting their local communities.
“When this nightmare is over, they will be vital to the nation’s healing process – so long as they are still standing.
“A new, dedicated and decent financial support package must reach our pubs and breweries quickly to save them from permanent closure and help hard-working licensees through this incredibly difficult time.”
Also responding to the latest lockdown restrictions and financial support, Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) chief executive James Calder said: “This is simply the next blow after months of struggle for England’s community pubs and small breweries.
“For the first time in lockdown, the Government intends to ban takeaway alcohol sales, which have been a lifeline to these small businesses.
“Sales through takeaway, click and collect and drive-through have enabled many to just about survive up to now.
“This reversal in policy directly discriminates against small businesses while allowing supermarkets to continue to sell beer from global breweries.”
Mr Calder added: “Yet again, there is no guarantee they will have access to the latest round of funding and will have to rely on the mercy of discretionary funding which have not always been forthcoming for these struggling businesses.
“This is increasingly at odds with the support provided by the devolved administrations – Scotland is introducing a direct package of support for brewers and Northern Ireland has extended business rates holidays.
“Small breweries and community pubs need an urgent guarantee they can continue to offer takeaway, click and collect and drive-through sales and that there is a proper package of support to help small breweries before it is too late.”
Additional Reporting By The Press Association