Thank you for contacting me about supporting our pubs.
No-one wants to see further restrictions and I understand that many pub landlords have concerns about the measures in place from 2 December. In light of the rapid spread of the virus across the country and the current transmission rates, however, I understand why they will continue to be necessary in some areas. Without a cautious relaxation of restrictions, the NHS could be overwhelmed and more lives lost over the winter.
The closure of pubs has been difficult to bear and the Government is rightly providing significant support for hospitality businesses. The new tier system will allow pubs and the hospitality sector to open up more widely on 2 December. Pubs, restaurants and bars in Tier 1 areas will reopen for table service and should close by 11pm with last calls taking place at 10pm. In Tier 2 areas, pubs and bars that operate as restaurants can continue to serve customers within the restricted hours, although alcohol should only be served as part of a substantial meal. In Tier 3 areas with a very high alert level, the hospitality sector must close except for takeaway, delivery and drive thru services.
As there continues to be a high number of cases in parts of the country, different restrictions need to be in place to reduce coronavirus transmission and protect lives. Evidence indicates that the risk present in pubs and bars is higher than many other indoor settings, as people tend to be in close to one another for a long time without face coverings. People also speak louder, generating more aerosols in sometimes poorly ventilated venues. The Scientific Advisory Group of Emergencies estimated that restrictions on pubs and restaurants would have a moderate effect on lowering transmission rates.
I recognise that wet-led pubs will not be able to open as fully as those that serve meals under the high and very high alert tiers. Every business forced to close will receive grants of up to £3,000 a month under the Local Restrictions Support Grant and local authorities are being provided with a further £1.1 billion to support businesses in their area. Where businesses are not required to close but are severely affected by restrictions in Tier 2 and Tier 3 areas, local councils will receive funding to provide grants up to £2,100 for each 28-day period.
I welcome that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended until March in response to new national restrictions, and to give people and businesses across the whole United Kingdom the certainty they need over what will be a difficult winter. Under the extension the government will pay 80 per cent of wages up to a cap of £2,500, with employers paying employer National Insurance Contributions and pension contributions only for the hours the employee does not work. Flexible furloughing will be allowed in addition to full-time furloughing.
At this time of uncertainty, I believe that all involved must also consider adjusting restrictions as new evidence emerges. I am glad that evidence continues to be collected on the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality sector and we must look forward to the further easing of restrictions as soon as possible.