"If he rushes everything, we're back to square one": South Tyneside pub landlords cautious ahead of Boris Johnson's Lockdown announcement
Hospitality bosses in South Tyneside are hopeful that Boris Johnson will set out a clear roadmap towards a point whereby they can reopen their venues later this year in his plan for a ‘phased’ easing of lockdown measures.
Borough pub managers warned, however, that a premature exit from Lockdown 3 could once again leave local pub traders “limping around” and take the businesses “right back to square one.”
In a speech to Parliament this week, the Prime Minister is due to set out a plan for a ‘phased and gradual’ easing of the restrictions currently in force across England.
It is not yet clear what the announcement will bring for the hospitality sector, with the main focus expected to be on areas like schools and travel restrictions.
But, regardless of any immediate implications for the industry, pub bosses say they want a clear plan for reopening that affords them leeway to plan ahead - rather than a repeat of the several days’ notice they were given last summer.
Stephen Sullivan, who runs Ziggy’s Bar in South Shields, said he hopes Number 10 holds its nerve and makes the decision not to reopen pubs too soon – saying that, if they do, he would not rush to open.
“I would hope Boris Johnson has the conviction to say, ‘I’m sorry. We’re going to stick this out until it’s safe, until you can open your doors in a viable way’,” Mr Sullivan said.
"Until the majority of the country is vaccinated, we can’t reopen. We were limping around with ridiculous restrictions last year and it’s not going to be enjoyable for anyone to reopen under those conditions again.”
He worries pubs like his could again be placed in a difficult position if Number 10 presses ahead anyway, adding: "The last thing people want to see is pubs opening up again too soon and the country being placed in another lockdown. The three we’ve already had has been a lot for people to cope with mentally.
"Ultimately, what we want to know is that the financial support is there until we can open viably – and, by ‘viably’, I mean no 10pm curfew, indoors and tables of six mixed households.
"That’s the only viable way we can trade. The right thing for hospitality to do is to remain closed until it’s safe to open, with as few restrictions as possible.”
Carl Mowatt, the manager at the Lakeside Inn, near Leam Lane, also struck a cautious note, saying that the reopening of South Tyneside venues while other parts of the region remain in some form of local lockdown could lead to punters travelling into the area from other parts of the country.
“We really don’t want to see a repeat of the scenes we saw with people bussing in to Liverpool last year,” Carl said.
"Summer will be a great time to reopen again – but it has to be done safely. We owe it to our loyal customers, who have been great throughout all this, to do that.”
Meanwhile, Lee Hughes, who runs the Red Hackle pub in Jarrow, said any reopening of pubs before May would be reckless.
He said: “We haven’t been the problem from day one. But we are where we are now.
"It’d be silly to push for a reopening too soon this time. Trading on the Easter bank holiday would be manic – we need to get that out of the way, first.
"If he [Boris Johnson] rushes everything, we’re back to square one.”