'Furious' Portsmouth pub landlords slam government over 'confusing' and 'bungled' messages as they are hit by hundreds of cancellations
‘FURIOUS’ pub landlords have slammed the government over ‘confusing’ messages as they face up to seeing profits run dry amid cancellations over the Christmas period.
It comes following England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty calling on people to restrict socialising in the run-up to Christmas following a surge in the new Omicron Covid strain.
Mr Whitty said ‘don’t mix with people you don’t have to’ and advised people to ‘prioritise social interactions that really matter to them’.
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No financial help has been offered to venues who say they have been left in a difficult position as punters pull the plug on visiting their premises.
Phil Estell, landlord of the Golden Eagle in Delamere Road, Southsea, said they had been offered ‘no help’ by the government - with him taking the decision to cancel events amid concerns from the public.
‘I am furious with the government - there has been no direction,’ he said. ‘This is the government who are happy to hold parties at Downing Street.
‘I’m not sure how this will affect us but I think we should have government support.
‘We only survived last year by the skin of our teeth thanks to our loyal customers and a lot of hard work.
‘A lot of people had the virus but did not get it through coming to pubs yet we are hit the hardest. The government is shooting themselves in the foot as the industry pays a lot in tax.’
In Fareham, Neil Matthews at The Delme Arms was hoping for a roaring Christmas with more than 400 bookings across the next week – but he’s had more than 100 cancellations as people have ‘had the fear of God put in them’.
The landlord said: ‘I think they’ve bungled the message. A lot of people are really, really concerned, but then you hear from one of the other scientists that (Omicron) is not as serious as the Delta variant.
‘We’ve been hit quite hard, it’s starting to take its toll.
‘The way things are going, the government will need to bring in financial support. Most us are really fearing January. You have a good December, it carries you through.’
Lawrence Hall, the landlord of the The Shepherd's Crook in Goldsmith Avenue, said it was ‘incredibly hard to tell’ what kind of trade the pub would receive during what is usually a busy time of year.
He said: ‘This industry needs support for all the troubles we have been through – from the chancellor, but also the whole government.
‘Once again, it’s just not there.’
Chris Vaux, manager of Southsea Village in Palmerston Road, said it lost some bookings after the government had taken the ‘middle ground’ with its messaging.
‘We’ve not felt the financial impact yet but it’s not to say we won’t,’ he said.
‘We are preparing to launch our takeaway service as a result and want to be in the best place we can be in time for Christmas.
‘There is a lot of uncertainty but that is something we are now used to. The government guidelines seem discourteous given the way they have been treating them themselves.
‘Even my optimism is waning. People have had enough.’
Despite his frustration, Chris said he did not want the trade to be seen as ‘victims’ especially with people ‘losing lives and in intensive care’.
Garry Disdle, landlord of Cha Chas, also on Palmerston Road, Southsea, said: ‘We are 50 per cent down on what we would expect for bookings with people cancelling.
‘The government has put the responsibility in the hands of the public to make their own choice while warning people to be careful. But it’s not good for us and now people will stay at home.
‘If they put us into lockdown it would be their responsibility to help us financially but by not closing us down they are not liable.’
Garry acknowledged the government was in a difficult position and would get ‘slaughtered’ either way though.
The landlord was hopeful that Omicron was less serious and the storm could blow over quickly.
Landlord Paul Skeates at the Old House At Home said he had also already seen a big drop in trade.
He said: ‘Financially, I’m down 15 to 20 per cent where I should be. Some weeks I break even, some weeks I have to put more money in – that’s just the way it is at the moment.
‘People are fed-up.
‘And we have not had long enough to get back on our feet, and people have not had enough time to get their confidence up.’
Paul echoed many landlords across the area in reminding patrons that hospitality venues retain Covid-19 protocols, like handing out masks and hand sanitisers.
He said: ‘We haven’t had a case of Covid. As far as I’m concerned, we’re one of the safe industries.’
The landlord suggested an extension of business rate relief – due to end in March – could make a ‘big’ difference.
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Stephen Morgan MP for Portsmouth South has backed the call for more clarity.
He said: ‘More and more businesses in our city tell me they need certainty and a clear plan for what comes next.
‘We have a serious health emergency, businesses are worried and employees are anxious. That is why I have always called for economic support to remain in step with public health measures.
‘Business leaders and trade bodies weren’t consulted on Plan B and it’s essential that ministers engage with the sector to protect our economy and secure jobs.
‘Yet we find the chancellor is hanging out in Hollywood. The government’s failure to plan has once again left businesses owners and employees in limbo.
‘The government must announce an immediate package of support for the culture, hospitality and leisure sectors that matches the situation Portsmouth’s businesses are now facing.’