04:34PM, Thursday 16 December 2021
James Thornhill, of the Pinkneys Arms
Pub owners in the Royal Borough are fearing for their businesses as they battle mass booking cancellations and debt costs amid the spread of Omicron.
Two landlords in Pinkneys Green and White Waltham have accused the Government of ‘striking fear’ and ‘scaremongering’ people as the new coronavirus variant spreads across the UK.
Tighter rules on home working and mask-wearing were brought in by Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week and although hospitality venues remain open, many are facing constant cancellations for income-generating events such as Christmas parties.
Publicans are seeing customers self-isolating and ‘feeling scared’ about Omicron during a time of year which is traditionally busy with punters.
James Thornhill, owner of the Pinkneys Arms in Lee Lane, said that his trade is 25 per cent down on normal Decembers, and added that his monthly bills are ‘several thousands of pounds’ higher than they would normally be due to debt brought about by overdue rent payments and other bills.
“We are trading okay but not at the level we would expect,” he said. “January, February and March are notoriously hard months and we expect a good December to carry us through.
“One of the issues we are having is quite a large number of people cancelling group bookings or reducing the numbers significantly, which is difficult because if you book a 26-person Christmas party we expect that to be big and we order a lot of stock for it.
“It is a big part of the year and when people cancel it does hit us because our costs stay exactly the same.”
James added that just yesterday (Wednesday) a group of eight cancelled a booking for lunch, while he is seeing an average of five to six tables each day cancelling.
He said: “My opinion is there is a lot of scaremongering going on. The majority of people who have wanted a vaccination have had one, and the boosters are being rolled out.
“I think it is very unjustified that the Government are putting so much fear into people. It seems over-the-top. It is just tightening the screw on us.
“We did well in the summer and put some money away, but that is very quickly being depleted.
“Grants [from the Government] were great, but they weren’t that significant compared to the running costs of the business.
“It would be good to put in measures that support us in the long-term so we can recover, because at the moment it feels like we have had some support, it has now gone, and you are on your own.”
A continuation of the five per cent VAT cut on food would also help pubs, James added, saying that it was a ‘foolish move’ by the Government to now bring this back up to 12.5 per cent.
Ministers also need to work with landlords – such as the Pinkneys Arms’ owners Wellington Pub Company – to ensure rent payments are fair.
Over in White Waltham, owner of The Beehive pub Dominic Chapman (pictured below with head chef David Thompson) said that without further support from Westminster, he will be ‘out of business’, adding that most of his Christmas party bookings ‘have gone’.
He added that it does not have to be ‘full support’, but rather help that ‘reflects the restrictions in place’.
Speaking on Tuesday, he said: “I have had 30 cancellations today – it is very worrying. People are trying to support us but there is fear out there and the Government are creating a mass panic.
“We need support or we are going out of business. Something needs to change because Christmas is the time of year when we are supposed to make a bit of money and put it away to get through January, February and March, which are pretty miserable.
“I have had emails from people saying ‘we are scared’. Not everybody – some people are getting on with it. But there is a fear out there and it does not make running a pub any easier.
“We need to stay positive, but there needs to be some help out there. Bring the restrictions, but bring the support as well.”
A Government spokesman said: “We have acted early to help control the virus’s spread - while avoiding damaging economic and social restrictions by allowing businesses to remain open.
“To continue to protect the NHS, as well as jobs and livelihoods across the country, our priority is to ensure everyone who is eligible gets their booster jabs as quickly as possible.
“Our £400billion COVID-19 support package will continue to help businesses into spring next year and we will continue to respond proportionately to the changing path of the virus, as we have done since the start of the pandemic.”