Government support 'not enough' says pub boss

The Black Lion in Long Melford recently reopened under the ownership of the Chestnut Group. Pictures

A Chestnut Group pub before the first lockdown was announced last year - Credit: Archant

Government support to help pub businesses caught up in the latest twist in the coronavirus crisis will only go "a very small way" to covering the true cost of closure, an East Anglian pub chain boss has warned.

Philip Turner, who heads up the Chestnut Group - which owns 12 pubs across Suffolk, Norfolk and Essex - has furloughed most of his 400-strong workforce following prime minister Boris Johnson's lockdown announcement on Monday, January 4, and closed his pubs completely while the team reassesses the situation.

January is traditionally a difficult month for the hospitality trade and one approached with trepidation, he said, but the latest lockdown has come as a big blow to an industry already reeling from the economic effects of the pandemic.

"Never did we think that the January trepidation would be accompanied by furniture stacked away, the back bars stripped, the freezers full of festive nibbles and all properties closed – a very sad way to end 2020, but a necessity if we want some normality in 2021," he said.

The group had to maintain some maintenance and operational workers on the payroll to keep things ticking over, he added.

But unlike with last year's lockdown, employers are now faced with the burden of paying National Insurance, which was an additional drain on other ongoing costs such as insurance, licences, tech platforms etc, he said.

"While the additional £9k (in government aid) is gratefully received, it will go a very small way to cover some of the ‘closed’ cost schedule," he pointed out.

Once the dust has settled Mr Turner expects there will be a number of voluntary initiatives across the pubs - similar to last year.

In 2020, 80 Chestnut staff volunteers raised £60,000, and made more than 25,000 meals which were delivered to 40-plus organisations across Essex, Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk.

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"Covid-19 has dealt some hefty blows to our society, and has caused fractures through our industry – some of which may never heal. Immunity to the collateral impact of the virus is impossible, and as we face another lockdown we are re-focusing efforts on the well-being of our team," he said.

New government rules around lockdown state that pubs and other hospitality venues must remain closed "with the exception of providing food and non-alcoholic drinks for takeaway (until 11pm), click-and-collect and drive-through. All food and drink (including alcohol) can continue to be provided by delivery".

Pubs owned by the Chestnut Group include the Cricketers at Clavering, the Westleton Bell near Yoxford, The Globe Inn at Wells-next-the-sea and The Northgate in Bury St Edmunds.