Devastating impact new restrictions will have on the pubs and bars that are usually packed at Christmas

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Pubs and bar owners across Wales have reacted angrily to the news that they’ll have to close their doors at 6pm during the Christmas period and won’t be able to sell alcohol even when they’re open.

Many have taken the latest announcement from First Minister Mark Drakeford as a potential death knell for the hospitality industry after nine months of economic hardship caused by the restrictions brought in to help combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new rulings, which begin at 6pm on Friday, December 4, come after the number of coronavirus cases in Wales per 100,000 people in the last week rose over the weekend from 180 to 210, putting the infection rate at the same point it was just a few days before October’s firebreak lockdown.

As a result, what should be shaping up as the sector’s busiest time of year instead sees it face the threat of financial ruin, closures and job losses.

Alistair Darby, the CEO of Brains – Wales’ biggest brewery – described the announcement as, “a huge slap in the face” after many businesses had forked out heavily to keep their premises safe for customers and in line with Welsh Government requirements.

He added that more than 100 of its managed pubs will therefore close indefinitely from Friday, with the majority of its 1,500 staff being put on furlough on 80% of their wages.

He is not the only one as the boss of JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin, has also now revealed their pubs will be closing in Wales.

“We have done everything that has been asked for us, and more,” said Mr Darby.



First Minister Mark Drakeford at the Welsh Government’s press conference

“The infection rates in our pubs are absolutely tiny, so to be told that we now have to close, and that is connected with it could save 1,000 to 1,500 preventable deaths, is a huge slap in the face because that implies that we are running dangerous transmission outlets.

“We are not. We have stuck to the rules – the bookings, the track and trace – we have done everything.”

Mr Darby added that, when broken down to a sector specific Economic Resilience Fund grant scheme, the financial support package of £340m being offered to businesses in both hospitality and leisure would not be enough to buoy them through a decidedly cheerless festive period.

“It doesn’t even touch the sides,” he said, adding that the recent firebreak cost the firm £1.6m.

“We have a £80m turnover business, every week we take one and a half million pounds.

“We make £200,000 to 300,000 of profit from that turn over each week, and we are being given access to a big company grant of £150,000.

“We are not going to turn it down, but it doesn’t even touch one week’s profit.”

Alexander Taylor, who owns Pennyroyal cocktail bar in Cardiff city centre, said he’d been relying on increased seasonal trade after running up big debts during the summer when he was forced to close for lockdown.

“We’re already under massive amounts of pressure from our landlord to pay back missing rent,” said the 31-year-old, who’s been based on the capital’s High Street for three and a half years.



Alexander Taylor, owner of Pennyroyal cocktail bar in Cardiff

“The only reason my venue is going to get through this period is because we’ve got a very long lease, as a result of which there’s legislation in place that protects us from forfeiture.

“Anyone with shorter leases might just see their landlord decide not to renew it, and there’s very little they can do about that.

“How you’re expected to pay your rent when you’re missing more than half a year’s worth of revenue though, I just don’t know.”

He added that the Welsh Government’s new alcohol restrictions – including the decision to allow pubs to sell takeaway booze until 10pm provided they have the correct license – are simply going to create a problem elsewhere.

“People will just get together in their houses to drink, where the danger of transmission is far higher and harder to police.

“It just doesn’t make any sense to me, and it’s something that’s really hit us hard.

“We’ve put our heart and soul into this place and feel really let down.

“As do a lot of people – everyone I know in the industry is taking it very badly.”

People like Jon Bassett, who also says he’ll be closing his several pubs across South Wales, including The Carpenters and The Pen and Wig in Newport.

In addition, all his staff will too be furloughed until further notice.

“I’ve been very concerned about what’s going to happen with regards to managing Christmas in the current situation, given that it’s always been a notoriously busy time,” said the 51-year-old, who also runs the Queens Vaults on Cardiff’s Westgate Street, The Four Elms on Newport Road and The Golden Lion in Penarth.

“But this decision is demoralising and very disappointing.

“It’s ridiculous saying we can’t serve alcohol. It’s a pub for God’s sake.

“Just selling cooked breakfasts and coffee isn’t viable – that scenario would bring in about one percent of our total sales.”

He added that, rather that keep being told to reopen and close, he’d prefer to wait until a vaccine has been rolled out and a final all-clear given.



A closed Queens Vaults pub on Westgate Street in Cardiff City centre on the first Saturday night of the fire-break lockdown
A closed Queens Vaults pub on the first Saturday night of the fire-break lockdown

“A normal December would usually see us comfortably bring in half a million quid turnover across our five pubs, and I’m thankful to have such a solid business and to not be in immediate danger.

“But my main concern is the safety of those who work for me, so I’d rather furlough them all and wait until see what Welsh Government’s next move is.

“I just can’t be doing with all this stopping and starting, it’s like working with your hands tied behind your back. So frustrating.”

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Despite having been in the pub game 35 years, he said that he’s never known anything like this before.

“I worked in London back in the days when the IRA bombing campaign was at its height and, at that time, I had a pub right next to New Scotland Yard.

“We were forever having to evacuate the place whenever the call came in, so I’d like to think I know a thing or two about crisis management.

“But these really are uncharted waters we’re in here.”



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