The ban on takeaway alcohol sales until mid-February, one of a raft of new measures outlined in the government’s latest lockdown has been criticised by industry observers who say that the ruling gives supermarkets and off-licences an unfair advantage at the expense of the on trade.
Up until today when the lockdown is now implemented, restaurants and pubs had been able to sell beer, wine and cocktails for customers to drink off site.
Even in Tier 3 restrictions, where hospitality was limited to a takeaway-only offering, many companies were able to keep trade ticking over by selling alcohol.
According to government guidelines, off-licences are once again deemed to be essential retail and will be permitted to remain open along with supermarkets and other food shops. Non-essential retail, such as clothing and homeware stores, must close, but are allowed to operate click-and-collect and delivery services.
The news has been met with fury by many members of the hospitality sector, who believe they, once again have been unfairly targeted.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, said: “A third lockdown is yet another blow to our sector. Particularly after it has faced an abysmally quiet Christmas and New Year’s, which saw many pubs remain closed over what is meant to be their busiest time of the year.
“The announcement today adds to the woes of pubs as it shows they are a long way from reopening properly. The road to recovery for the pub sector just got longer.
“Given the circumstances, a wave of business failures is imminent unless a greater package of financial support from the Government is given to secure pubs and the brewers that supply them.
“That means grants in line with those in the first lockdown and support beyond April when the business rates holiday, lower VAT rates and furlough scheme all end.”Chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA), James Calder, also expressed frustration.
“This is simply the next blow after months of struggle for England’s community pubs and small breweries,” he said. “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.”
UKHospitality Chief Executive, Kate Nicholls, has welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement. “The Chancellor has rightly recognised the costs imposed on hospitality businesses by enforced closures and the need for additional support. It is also encouraging that the discretionary grants address the suffering in the supply chains upon which our sector is reliant,” she said.
However Nicholls stressed more needed to be done to ensure hospitality had a long term future.
“Make no mistake that this is only a sticking plaster for immediate ills – it is not enough to even cover the costs of many businesses and certainly will not underpin longer-term business viability for our sector,” she said. “To address the inevitable and existential challenges that hospitality faces, we need confirmation of extensions to the business rates holiday and of the 5% VAT rate.”