A number of Bedford’s pub landlords and bar owners have hit out at the latest government coronavirus restrictions, which place Bedford Borough in the Tier 2: High Alert category.
As of 2 December, only pubs that serve ‘substantial meals’ can reopen, meaning that many of the town’s best-loved boozers are still forbidden to reopen.
According to the trade association, UK Hospitality, 98% of the UK’s hospitality trade are now under tier 2 or tier 3 restrictions.
They say that should the restrictions last until the end of the year, an estimated £7.8 billion worth of trading is set to be wiped out, compared to 2019.
Liz Sutton, who runs the Wellington Arms in Bedford town centre, was anticipating reopening the popular real ale pub on 2 December.
“Now that most large drinking establishments will be able to open as they have the benefit of having a kitchen it really feels as if those making the rules have never had the pleasure of having a local pub, where everyone knows your name,” she told the Bedford Independent.
“Backstreet boozers are about to ring last orders forever across the country.
“Many folk have suggested that we start doing food, if only it were that simple. We do not have a commercial kitchen and we do not have a food licence (and I can’t cook that well!)
“I’m afraid a pickled egg won’t quite make a substantial meal and I’m not sure how a meal will keep customers safe…”
Liz says they have done everything within their powers to make the Welly a safe and welcoming environment.
“My staff and I are absolutely gutted we can’t open knowing we have stuck to all the new rules imposed and cut our capacity to a third of what it was. We can only hope that when they review on the 16th, we’ll fare better.”
Ronnie Toms of the Devonshire Arms on Dudley Street echoes Liz’s comments, saying that it would be impossible for them to adapt to selling food in order to stay open.
“People say we should just serve food, but we don’t have commercial kitchen, the staff or licence to do that. You can’t change your business model in a week,” he said.
“We’re probably one of the safest pubs in Bedford and because we don’t serve food we can’t open. We’ve been left on the shelf.”
Ronnie believes that the decision about which hospitality premises open should be dealt with locally, with the council’s Environmental Health Officers determining if pubs are Covid safe, regardless of whether they sell food.
As it stands, Ronnie doesn’t think his pub will reopen until 2021.
“I can’t see us opening again this year,” he said. “All the money we’ve ploughed into the business to follow Government guidelines has gone to waste.
“The Government now has to support us or they’re going to see pubs like us closing across the country.”
Bears and Tales’ owner, Gareth Barber, also questioned the support offered by the government to businesses that are unable to reopen.
“Obviously today’s news is a further blow to our recovery at no fault of our own,” he said.
“What is even more galling that such a low percentage of cases are linked to hospitality – less than 4% even before lockdown.
“I feel the government need to properly look at what they are doing to the sector and offer far more support than the pitiful grants they are currently giving out, which don’t even cover our rent.
“With no option to serve food, they are effectively keeping us shut – we’ll continue with our take away, bottled cocktail service in the hope it sees us through.