'Unviable' for pub gardens to open in April, chief executive of Greene King warns, as Suffolk businesses and school bosses react to roadmap out of lockdown
The boss of the UK's largest pub retailer, which is based in Suffolk, has warned that Boris Johnson's plans for beer gardens to reopen in a couple of months' time is 'unviable'.
The comments have come after the Prime Minister announced his roadmap out of lockdown this afternoon, when he declared that 'the end really is in sight' and revealed that restrictions would start to be eased next month.
He told MPs the approach was 'cautious but also irreversible' and would be driven by 'data not dates'.
The PM said shops, hairdressers, nail salons, libraries, outdoor attractions and outdoor hospitality venues such as beer gardens would be able to reopen from April 12 at the earliest.
But the chief executive of Greene King, which is based in Bury St Edmunds, said this was 'unviable' so 'many pubs would have to remain closed'.
Nick Mackenzie said: “We are desperate to reopen our pubs and welcome back our customers and understand there needs to be a sensible easing out of lockdown, but are disappointed not to be able to open alongside non-essential retail, gyms and hairdressers.
“Opening pub gardens in April simply isn’t viable so many pubs will have to remain closed and, with a phased reopening from May, next week’s Budget needs to bring positive news as we continue to burn tens of millions of pounds in cash every month."
Mr Mackenzie has called on the Government to continue to support businesses affected by the pandemic well into the future.
"An extension to furlough, the business rates holiday and hospitality VAT cut for another year, as well as providing additional targeted support to those most affected, will help project jobs and the future of the great British pub," he said.
"As we look to June, we need clarity on what the full lifting of restrictions looks like so we can plan for pubs to be open as normal once more.
“Pubs and hospitality can be part of the solution when it comes to safe and responsible socialising, where people can meet in Covid-secure environments rather than behind closed doors in each other’s homes.”
And the boss of an organisation which represents businesses in Bury St Edmunds said while the roadmap provided a 'much better understanding' of where businesses stand, he felt the approach was 'unduly cautious'.
Mark Cordell, chief executive of Our Bury St Edmunds Business Improvement District, said: "Personally I think he's been unduly cautious with the timelines which could have been speeded up but having said that what my businesses would want is a degree of certainty and with all the acknowledged statements about referring to the data at each stage this appears to be a far more substantial outline than the mish mash of decisions made last year.
"On balance our members will have a much better understanding of where they stand and can plan and that's to be commended."
But the boss of Unity Schools Partnership, which has numerous schools in Suffolk, said they were looking forward to fully reopening from March 8.
Chief executive Tim Coulson said: “We are delighted that we will be able to welcome back all children and that they will be able to see their friends and resume their studies.
“We have been very impressed at how well children have engaged with the work provided for home learning and we are very grateful for all the support provided by their parents and carers.
“Staff across all our schools have done an amazing job in juggling in-school lessons for vulnerable and keyworker families and offering a comprehensive home schooling programme.
“We now look forward to welcoming all pupils back.
"We plan to help children make up lost learning time over the next year and will look to make effective uses of the Government’s additional support, including additional tutoring for disadvantaged through the trust’s recently established tutor agency, SP Tutors.”
And the leader of Suffolk County Council and chair of the Suffolk Outbreak Engagement Board said now we know restrictions are set to ease over the next few months, Suffolk 'needs to continue following the guidance'.
Matthew Hicks said: “I think that most people will feel that this lockdown has been harder than any of the previous restrictions. Many more people now know someone who’s been affected by Covid-19, the weather has meant more time indoors and we’re missing our loved ones more than ever. In short, we are tired and ready for a brighter future.
“The end really is in sight now. With the rapidly accelerating vaccination programme, testing readily available and the number of cases steadily decreasing, the Prime Minister has been able to outline the road map towards social restrictions ending.
“Throughout this lockdown, the people of Suffolk have stuck to the rules and with the end goal clearly in mind. It is this commitment to doing the right thing that has protected vulnerable people, the NHS and, ultimately, saved lives.
“Now we are so close, Suffolk needs you to continue following the guidance, get tested and vaccinated when it is your turn. We have worked together to slow the spread of Covid and must now stay the course to overcome it.”