Pub owners and campaigners have urged the Government to reverse the “baffling” and “nonsensical” decision to restrict the sale of takeaway alcohol during a second national lockdown.
Official guidelines state that although restaurants, bars and pubs must close from Thursday, food takeaway and delivery services are still permitted – but serving alcohol to take away is not.
Industry bosses have warned that the expected ban will result in “thousands of gallons of beer (being) poured down drains” and said that guidance that is not “evidence-based” should be challenged.
The measures are expected to hit smaller, independent breweries hardest and have been described as “disastrous” by campaigners.
James Calder, chief executive of the Society of Independent Brewers (Siba), said urgent clarification on sales restrictions is needed from the Government.
“As if a second national lockdown in England wasn’t disastrous enough for pubs and independent breweries, the Government has gone further this time around and introduced an unjustified restriction banning pubs from selling takeaway beer, a service which was the only source of income for many businesses during the summer lockdown,” he said.
“This is baffling considering supermarkets will presumably still be allowed to sell packaged beer, whilst small breweries and pubs will not.
“It is nonsensical to impose these new restrictions when pubs have time and time again proved that they are Covid-secure, both during lockdown when takeaway was their only option and since pubs reopened on July 4.”
Mr Calder added that in addition to clarification on sales restrictions, further financial support was needed for pubs, as well as justification for their closure from the Government.
The concern was also raised by the head of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, at the group’s annual conference on Monday.
“We must keep as much of the economy open as possible and it does mean that we should be challenging guidance that isn’t evidence-based,” she said.
“Apparently, takeaways are going to be able to operate but they are not going to be able to deliver anything that is alcohol-based.
“So we’ll have thousands of gallons of beer poured down drains – how is that evidence-based?”
Josh Jepson, 29, co-director of the Blue Bee Brewery and landlord of the Kelham Island Tavern, in Sheffield, said the latest measures were a “kick in the teeth.”
“Cask beer only has a finite life span and selling it will stop it from going to waste and keep pubs and breweries going, allowing them to have some form of income,” he said.
“To stop them from selling it seems like a bit of a kick in the teeth to be honest. And it seems a bit unfair when pubs have gone to all this effort to make sure they are Covid secure.”
Mr Jepson said his brewery normally produces around 3,000 litres of cask beer each week – selling up to 80 nine-gallon casks to pubs – but sold just three last week.
Mark Newcombe, chairman of Craufurd Arms Society Ltd, which runs the community-owned Craufurd Arms pub in Maidenhead, Berkshire, said that selling takeaway pints had “kept the community involved.”
“Last time we did a delivery service and a takeaway service and, although we weren’t breaking even, at least it was bringing money in to the pub,” he said.
“Now the rules seem to state that you can’t do takeaway, which is ridiculous.
“It means that all of our wet stock, particularly our real ales, will have to be drunk by Thursday or else we’ll have to throw them away – I don’t think the breweries are going to want them back.”
Mr Newcombe said the pub will have to be “mothballed” as it does not provide food delivery, and that uncertainty over the length of a second lockdown is a big concern.
“Our unique selling point is our fine real ales, it’s terrible. The takeaway pints kept the community involved,” he said.
“How do you plan for it? It could be four weeks, it could be five weeks, it could be until next January, we just don’t know.”
Tom Stainer, chief executive of the Campaign For Real Ale (Camra), said: “Offering alcohol for takeaway was a lifeline for many pubs, and particularly breweries, during the first lockdown.
“It is a baffling and damaging decision to remove this option, particularly when other businesses such as supermarkets are able to continue to sell takeaway alcohol.
“Pubs and breweries were already reporting losses and the risk of closure before Christmas, and this will only add to the risk of permanent closures within the next few months.
“Camra and the entire pub and brewery industry is now urging the Government to reverse this bizarre decision and ensure the survival of our pubs and breweries.”
Downing Street was resisting calls to allow pubs to make off-licence sales during the lockdown.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “What we’re seeking to do is to reduce the number of gatherings which might take place where there might be social contact that might lead to transmission of the virus.”
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