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‘Soul destroying’: Pubs and bars call time on curfew

PUBLISHED: 08:36 30 September 2020 | UPDATED: 08:18 01 October 2020

Boris Johnson has changed tact again, imposing a national curfew from 10pm to the distress of Norfolk business. Picture: PA/Archant

Boris Johnson has changed tact again, imposing a national curfew from 10pm to the distress of Norfolk business. Picture: PA/Archant

PA/Archant

The government must do what it can to control the spread of coronavirus. But businesses are getting angry. Eleanor Pringle asks what needs to change.

Glen Sarabi, manager of Fetch (pictured) said Prince of Wales Road was very busy at 10pm. Picture Harry Rutter.Glen Sarabi, manager of Fetch (pictured) said Prince of Wales Road was very busy at 10pm. Picture Harry Rutter.

Businesses say they have been “left to rot” by government after it has introduced a series of “moronic” measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus.

Hospitality businesses, their supply chains, and SMEs alike – which make up a huge bulk of East Anglia’s economy – have warned over their future should financial support not be ramped up in reflection of the measures.

The government’s messaging throughout the pandemic has been mixed – to say the least.

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Hospitality businesses in Suffolk (pictured, Ipswich) have condemned the curfew. Picture: Neil DidsburyHospitality businesses in Suffolk (pictured, Ipswich) have condemned the curfew. Picture: Neil Didsbury

The first major bump came during lockdown with the infamous Barnard Castle incident in which special advisor Dominic Cummings drove hours from his home to “test his eyesight”.

Millions of households were banned from seeing one another and travelling – though Mr Cummings took a trip hours from his home with his family. Research done since has suggested many people stopped taking the government’s message serious at this very moment.

As the economy reopened consumers were encouraged to Eat Out to Help Out, spending millions to get restaurants and cafes back on their feet.

Then Boris Johnson urged people to go back to the office – again to rejuvenate town and city centres.

However such initiatives have been axed and reversed with a 10pm curfew for hospitality businesses put in place.

These u-turns have left bosses in East Anglia dizzy – and although all agree for the need to protect public health they are increasingly exasperated by the handling of the crisis.

“We’ve been left to rot. I feel like the violinist on the Titanic. Everyone knows we’re going down and businesses like me are just trying to keep people’s spirits up,” said Glen Sarabi, who is the manager for a handful of bars across Norwich.

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“You can’t help but feel that it’s businesses like ours which will be the first to sink.

The manager of Bond in Tombland, and Truth, Mantra and Fetch in Prince of Wales Road, added: “It’s moronic. The first weekend curfew was introduced the road was as busy as any normal weekend because you had thousands of people pouring out of all the bars and restaurants – which are controlled and safe environments – into the street which is not controlled. Then you’ve got people packing into taxis, taking their face masks off, trying to get into Tesco to buy more alcohol. They just haven’t thought it through – it should at least be a softer or staggered curfew.”
According to a Public Health England report published earlier this month only 5pc of cases identified through test and trace have been linked to outbreaks in pubs.

So while the effectiveness of such policies remains to be seen, businesses are already feeling the chokehold tightening.

The story is the same across the rest of East Anglia’s urban centres. Restaurants catering to an earlier-evening sitting are also suffering with diners cancelling reservations, choosing to stay in instead of having a night out cut short.

The impact is also trickling down the supply chain.

Mr Sarabi said that where previously he ordered 100 bottles of week he is now ordering a maximum of 15.

Bury St Edmunds-based Green King believe the curfew will have “crippling effects”. 
Nick Mackenzie, chief executive, said: “The industry is still dealing with the crippling after-effects of the nationwide lockdown and the cumulative effect of the new restrictions, combined with the singling out of pubs, mean the measures announced by the chancellor don’t go far enough, especially for drink-led city centre pubs. More targeted support is needed to help those people whose pubs remain closed, or businesses that were starting to recover which have again become unviable.

“It feels like pubs are being unfairly targeted when there is little evidence that they enable the spread of Covid-19. Like the rest of the industry, we are doing all we can to help fight the virus and have invested significantly in ensuring that our pubs are safe for customers which is reflected in PHE’s data.”

Now businesses including Norfolk Brewhouse are backing calls for support for the hospitality sector.

“In the industry it’s a well-known fact that for every one bar job, six jobs rely on it. That’s the breweries, the catering equipment businesses, the suppliers, the petrol stations down the road which rely on tourist traffic,” said brewer David Holliday.

“It’s soul destroying to see pubs that are doing everything they can to stay afloat but then having to close at 10pm. They’ve been operating for centuries, they know what they’re doing, but the corner shop selling alcohol can stay open later but has fewer restrictions enforced on them.”

The Hingringham-based producer of Moon Gazer Ale went on: “It just seems like some of these policies haven’t been based on evidence. That’s not a political comment, it’s just a practical observation.”

These issues have lead to the Campaign for Pubs writing an open letter to government calling for support including a cut to 5pc VAT on sales in pubs, a business rates holiday extension and a review of pub rent levels.

The letter to the chancellor reads: “We are urging you to listen to the nation’s publicans – to meet with us and understand that we need urgent support now to get through the next six months. If you ignore us, you and the government will be responsible for the closure and loss of many important pubs up and down the country, as well as causing loss and hardship for publicans, pub staff and their families.”


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