Takeaway alcohol ban 'a death knell' for hospitality businesses

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

Takeaway alcohol ban 'a death knell' for hospitality businesses Coronavirus lockdown

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Banning hospitality businesses in England from selling takeaway alcoholic drinks during the third national lockdown will be 'a death knell' for many, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has warned.

The group's chairman, Nik Antona, has written to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Alok Sharma to seek urgent clarification and assurances for licensees that they will able to operate on a level playing field during the latest lockdown in England.

He says the ban will once again provide an unfair advantage to supermarkets and off-licenses that don’t face similar restrictions.

The new national lockdown, which comes into effect across England today (6 January) and will last for at least seven weeks, will once again see pubs, restaurants and cafes banned from selling takeaway pints​.

Hospitality venues will be able to provide food and non-alcoholic drinks for takeaway, click-and-collect and drive-thru, subject to a 11pm curfew.

All food and drink, including alcohol, can continue to be provided by delivery.

The Government previously imposed a ban on pubs and restaurants selling takeaway pints during England's second national lockdown in November​, although later amended the legislation​ to allow sales of alcohol for takeaway providing orders were placed in advance either over the phone or online. 

It represents a marked contrast to the rules in place during the first lockdown, which took place in the spring of last year, where takeaway pints were allowed; a move that was credited with helping many hard-hit pubs stay afloat during the shutdown.

'Existential crisis'

The removal of the ability for restaurants to serve alcohol has been criticised from a number of different quarters.

"The ability to sell alcohol was a valuable lifeline particularly for bars and pubs and even that now looks like it’s been removed," says Gareth Hughes, licensing and planning barrister at law firm Keystone Law.

"Many venues have recently been able to take full advantage of the Government’s summer relaxation in the law to allow off sales whilst some private members clubs, unable to sell to the general public have applied for new premises licences in order to allow them the ability to sell alcohol via takeaway to allow them to stay afloat.  

"Yet within days of securing these new licences, they have now become useless until these draconian new measures are relaxed. This is nothing short of an existential crisis for our sector.”

Brewer Molson Coors has also expressed its disappointment at the decision.

“While a third national lockdown is evidently necessary to keep people safe, the needless ban on alcohol takeaway sales is another devastating blow for pubs, bars and restaurants that impinges their ability to keep their businesses running," says Phil Whitehead, managing director for Western Europe at Molson Coors.

“The next few months are going to be incredibly difficult for the hospitality sector and the government’s newly announced grant funding provides a much-needed lifeline. But this support must be extended, beyond just the frontline venues, to the vital supply chain they depend on.

“The pub and brewing sector employs almost 1 million people and plays a vital role in communities across the country, but unless action is taken committing to an extension of the 5% VAT rate to all drinks sold in pubs as well reducing beer duty rate, we risk losing large swathes of this essential ingredient of Britain’s unique hospitality culture.”

UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls noted on Twitter yesterday that bars and restaurants in Scotland and Wales can do takeaway and click and collect as well as delivery of alcohol , and that it is not clear why England is applying a different rule.

BigHospitality ​has contacted the Cabinet Office for further comment. 

In his letter to Alok Sharma, Antona says only being able to sell alcohol through delivery is not a viable option for most licensees.

"This is grossly unfair and the latest in a series of measures that have restricted hospitality businesses, while handing an advantage to large supermarkets at the expenses of small, community businesses," he writes.

"Please urgently clarify that hospitality businesses will be able to operate as off-licences, on a level playing field with supermarkets, selling alcohol in sealed containers for consumers to take home."

In a separate statement, Antona describes the lockdown as yet another devastating blow for an already struggling industry that follows hot on the heels of nearly a year of restrictions, curfews and forced closures.

"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," he says.

"This will once again provide an unfair advantage to supermarkets and off-licenses that don’t face similar restrictions."

Commenting on the grant support outlined by Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday​, which will see hospitality businesses receive a one-off cash injection worth up to £9,000 as part of a new funding package, Antona says it was welcome, but added it was nowhere near enough to cover the haemorrhaging costs for pubs and breweries.

“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," he adds.

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