Struggling pub landlords 'living on soup' to get through Covid crisis

How Covid crisis has left landlords on the breadline: Pub boss says she is ‘living on tinned soup’ while waiting for grant cash amid warnings lockdown rules will be ‘death knell for bars’

  • Christine Langham, 49, who runs The Ship Inn in Hull, is ‘living on tinned soup’
  • She is among thousands of UK pub owners waiting on grant cash from councils
  • Campaign for Real Ale issues warning over ban on takeaway pints in lockdown
  • Boss of Britain’s oldest brewery says pubs should become vaccination centres

Pub landlords have told of the catastrophic impact of coronavirus on their trade, with one landlady claiming she is ‘living on tinned soup’ while waiting for grant cash.

Christine Langham, 49, who runs The Ship Inn in Hull, is among thousands of UK pub owners relying on Government funding distributed by local councils to survive.

She said she is entitled to £667 every fortnight to cover expenses while her pub is closed, but a payment expected three weeks ago has still not arrived in her account.

It comes as the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) warned that a ban on takeaway pints during England’s third national lockdown could be the ‘death knell for many pubs’.

Ms Langham received £667 from Hull City Council last week on December 29 but she is still waiting for the payment she expected three weeks ago on December 16.

Christine Langham, 49, who runs The Ship Inn in Hull, is among thousands of UK pub owners relying on Government funding distributed by local councils to survive

The owner of The Ship Inn in Hull (pictured) said she is entitled to £667 every fortnight to cover expenses while her pub is closed, but a payment expected three weeks ago has still not arrived

Mary Bagley, the manager of The Unicorn pub in Wollaston, Stourbridge, expressed sadness at the decision to stop the sale of takeaway beer 

She is also still waiting on a £1,000 Christmas grant promised by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to help ‘wet-led pubs’ plus an extra £2,000 put forward by the council.

Ms Langham said she cannot afford to heat her pub or flat and claims to have questioned the council on numerous occasions as to where her money is.

Pubs should be used as Covid vaccine centres, says boss of Britain’s oldest brewery 

Pubs should be used as Covid vaccination centres, according to the boss of Britain’s oldest brewery.

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Kent brewer Shepherd Neame, made a call to arms, saying pubs could be the perfect weapon to help with the fight against coronavirus.

He said he had offered up some of his pubs to be used as vaccination hubs and urged Prime Minister Boris Johnson to make sure companies could offer the vaccine to their staff.

Mr Neame added that he had cancelled rent for all his publicans to help get them through the hard times.

It comes after the chain BrewDog also offered its bars for the same purpose.

Mr Neame said: ‘It seems that the only realistic way to emerge from this crisis is by delivering the mass vaccination programme as quickly as possible.

‘To this end – as others in our sector have done – we have offered up some of our pubs to act as vaccination hubs, in target areas. In the main they are well located, spacious and with large refrigeration capacity, and so could be ideal.

‘We have also asked the Government to enable companies to organise vaccinations for its own team members – under the supervision, of course, of appropriately trained healthcare professionals.

‘Every year we provide flu vaccinations to brewery team members, and would like to offer the new vaccine to all team members as soon as possible. We feel this approach, if followed by other organisations, could greatly accelerate the national vaccine delivery.’

He also spoke of the ‘economic pain and hardship for us all’ in the crisis ‘particularly in the hospitality sector.’

‘We remain committed to supporting our licensees and so have cancelled rent for all our pubs,’ he said. ‘We welcome today’s announcement that businesses in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors are to receive one-off emergency grants of up to £9,000.

‘However, grants are no substitute for being able to trade again, and we are joining others in our industry calling for sustained investment in our recovery, in the form of an ongoing cut in VAT, and cancellation of business rates for another year to 2022.’

Shepherd Neame has been based in Faversham, Kent, for more than 300 years and has 320 pubs in London and the South East of England.

During the first lockdown, the firm’s outlets were shut for 105 days.

Mr Neame continued: ‘By mid-February 2021, the majority of our pubs will have been shut for a further similar time period. Over the summer of 2020, we traded with ever tightening restrictions through to November 5. This cannot go on.

‘We need to get businesses open again for Easter, at the latest, so that we can all enjoy great British hospitality again in safe and regulated environments. We are willing to play our part to help the national effort to get us to this point as quickly as possible.

‘These remain challenging times, but I am confident that, as a business and as individuals, we can dig deep and find the resilience in ourselves to get through the next few months.

‘There are many who think we will see a return to the ‘Roaring Twenties’. Let’s hope so and let’s remain positive about the future.’

BrewDog chief executive James Watt has confirmed that the company was in talks with the Minister for Vaccine Deployment Nadhim Zahawi and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

The chain said: ‘We are now in talks with the Government about using our closed BrewDog bars as vaccination centres.

‘We’re also going to give everyone who gets vaccinated at a BrewDog bar a special commemorative beer.’ 

The council said the second Tier Three Local Restrictions Grant installment worth £667 and an additional restriction grant worth £3,000 would be paid this week.

But Ms Langham said: ‘I have still got rents to pay, gas, electric, water, phone bills and alarm monitoring. It doesn’t add up when I have got £667.

‘Financially, I cannot afford to heat the pub or the flat. I am living on tinned soup because I cannot afford to go out and eat.

‘I have got no money because the council have not paid what the government said I was entitled to. I didn’t want to close. We were forced to.

‘I have emailed the council about 15 times asking where the grants are and there has been absolutely nothing.’

Ms Langham said she was now ‘racking up’ rent debt with her brewery because the council have not paid her the full amount.

She first moved into the pub in November to keep it running for the community, and signed up to run it for 11 months with the chance of a five-year lease when time is up.

Ms Langham is determined to keep the ‘proper old-fashioned boozer’ open but admitted she was unsure if she will be able to carry on as restrictions continue.

She said: ‘It is a question I don’t have the answer to. If things dramatically change then I will probably be going but I don’t want to. I feel at home here. 

‘I want to help the community. This is a proper old-fashioned boozer which are a dying breed. This place opened around 1930 and is surrounded by industrial units. It is busy when it is open because locals love it.’

A Hull City Council spokesman said: ‘The council is paying all eligible businesses their second installment of the Tier Three Local Restrictions Grant this week.

‘These payments will take two to three working days to be processed through the banking system into the relevant bank accounts.

‘In addition to this, the business owner is also eligible for a £3,000 Additional Restriction Grant for hospitality premises, which will also be paid this week.

‘The business will also be assessed for its eligibility to receive additional payments as part of the third lockdown restrictions.’ 

Pubs have not been helped by the new coronavirus restrictions banning alcohol from being sold with any other takeaway services offered by pubs and restaurants.

Camra chairman Nik 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 haemorrhaging 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 said: ‘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 haemorrhaging 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 £4.6billion.

A closed pub with Christmas decorations in the windows in the City of London on December 21

Campaign for Real Ale chairman Nik Antona (pictured) said a ban on takeaway pints during the third natonal lockdown for England could be the ‘death knell for many pubs’. He is pictured being served a pint by landlady Katy Boulter at his local pub, the Royal Oak in Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire, after England’s initial 105-day pub shutdown ended in July 2020

A bar manager at The White Hart in Ironbridge, Shropshire, closes at the final bell on March 20 last year after Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered pubs across the country to close

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’.

All Bar One owner Mitchells & Butlers eyes investor cash-call as pubs are forced to shut

Embattled All Bar One owner Mitchells & Butlers has revealed plans for an investor cash-call to boost its battered balance sheet as UK lockdowns have forced the closure of all its sites.

The group said it is ‘prudent’ to consider an equity raise as it burns through up to around £40 million in cash a month before £50 million of quarterly debt payments during lockdown. The news sent shares down 8 per cent.

Mitchells, which also owns brands including Harvester and Toby Carvery, said it has cash balances of £125million. It said no decision has yet been made on the timing or size of an equity capital raise.

Total sales over its first quarter to January 2 crashed 67.1 per cent as tightening coronavirus restrictions hit trading and saw increasing numbers of pubs shut, with all its sites closed from December 30. Sales fell 30 per cent on a like-for-like basis, when only taking into account periods where stores were able to open.

Mitchells said: ‘We welcome recent positive news on vaccine approval and rollout but the future facing the hospitality sector remains extremely uncertain. It is not possible to estimate with any confidence what restrictions on our ability to trade lie ahead of us and for how long.

‘As a result, the directors believe it is prudent to explore an equity capital raise, to give the group increased financial and operational flexibility.’

Mitchells recently axed about 1,300 jobs and closed up to 20 of its pubs and restaurants as the sector has been devastated by the pandemic and measures to control it.

Chief executive Phil Urban called on the Government to provide more direct support for affected businesses.

He said: ‘The Job Retention Scheme is temporarily protecting some employment but there is a real and pressing need for support for businesses themselves if we are to return to being the vibrant sector and important employers that we were.’

In November, the group’s annual results showed the pandemic sent it crashing to a £123million loss for the year to September 26 from pre-tax profits of £177million the previous year.

Analyst James Wheatcroft, at Jefferies, said Mitchells’ plans for an equity raise are ‘no great surprise given it is one of the few leisure companies not to raise so far’.

‘Longer term, with a mainly freehold, well-invested estate, M&B looks well-placed to capture market share from a damaged hospitality sector,’ he added.

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 said 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.’ 

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