Government Faces Legal Action Over Indoor Hospitality Reopening Date

Two leading hospitality figures are considering legal action, taking the government to court over its plans to release England from lockdown.

Punch Taverns founder and former director of Pizza Express Hugh Osmond and Greater Manchester’s nighttime economy adviser Sacha Lord, said the industry is losing £200m a day. In a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, they said there is no “evidence or justification” to open shops five weeks before pubs and restaurants, describing the move as “plainly irrational”.

Under current plans, non-essential retail will be able to open from 12 April if new coronavirus infections are kept under control. Outdoor hospitality, such as beer gardens and patio areas, will also be allowed to reopen then, however, pubs and restaurants will not be allowed to accept customers indoors until May 17.

The hospitality and on-trade sector has repeatedly argued that pubs re-opening last July had a negligible effect on infections, which has been confirmed by industry reports which revealed that pubs bars and restaurants were responsible for just 3% of Covid infections whereas supermarkets are the “primary setting” where those who have contracted the virus have recently been, followed by secondary schools, then primary schools, hospitals, and care homes.

The two men have asked the government to seek specific advice from scientists “whether it is justifiable to prevent the hospitality industry opening whilst, at the same time, allowing non-essential shops to open”, arguing that “transmission is plainly higher in non-essential shops,” and said they would pursue legal action if the government did not provide evidence to the contrary.

UKHospitality CEO, Kate Nicholls, today commented: “The swift vaccine rollout and its impact on case numbers is extremely positive. It gives us hope that the Government will be able to deliver on its commitment to make this the last ever lockdown and, most importantly, to remove all social distancing restrictions for good on 21 June. While any restrictions remain in place, our pubs and restaurants can only break even and the viability of thousands remains at risk – we lost over 12,000 in the last year alone.

“That is why we urge the Government to review the roadmap and look to remove or reduce restrictions on trading – table service, online or takeaway only, no standing outdoors –at the earliest possible opportunity. It may also be possible to allow some limited indoor operations to resume at an earlier date. While we understand the need for caution, we would urge the Government to review the roadmap again and make decisions based on data, not dates.”