South Tyneside pubs 'left in limbo' after Tier 2 covid restrictions announcement
Both hospitality businesses and their customers in South Tyneside have expressed frustration at the state of limbo they say they have been left in by the Government’s latest Covid announcements.
Although the switch to the three-tier system, which sees South Tyneside bracketed in Tier Two, means little change to the Covid-19 rules and restrictions for the sector in the borough, landlords and hospitality bosses are increasingly anxious that struggling businesses will be left to sink or swim as infection rates soar in the North East.
Under the Tier Two ranking, pubs and bars can remain open for the time being – but would have to close if the area moved into Tier Three, which would see government funding released to help businesses forced to close.
One Jarrow landlord told The Gazette he would have preferred Number 10 to have placed South Tyneside in Tier Three this week, as it would have allowed his business to close and weather the immediate storm as cases rise – instead of being left to struggle on in the current state of limbo North East pubs find themselves in.
Gareth Carr, who owns and runs the Crown and Anchor pub, believes his business may only last another month or two if further government aid is not made available.
"We’re loaned up to the hilt at the moment – we’re 80% down compared to our ‘normal’ rate of takings before Covid, and we’re still running with 100% of bills to pay,” he said.
"The Government’s inaction is pushing businesses like ours closer and closer to bankruptcy.”
Mr Carr says that, between recent refurbishments made to the Chapel Road premises and separate payments to keep the business afloat, he has spent around £100,000 since March alone.
He described the current scenario regional hospitality bosses find themselves in as a ‘Catch-22 situation’ – with rapidly declining custom and no clear support or guidance from Number 10.
A number of Jarrow pubs have been forced to shut their doors in recent weeks, as some have failed to comply with new social distancing rules, while others have simply seen their businesses become unviable as a result of the pandemic’s impact on trade.
‘Wet pubs’ (those not serving food) have been hit particularly hard by the latest restrictions announced by Whitehall ministers.
Tracey Hardy, manager at the newly-reopened Johnnie’s pub, on the other hand, said she was “glad” the Walter Street establishment has remained open thus far – although she said the decision not to enforce pub closures in the area this week came as a “surprise”.
“It’s a nightmare at the moment,” she told The Gazette.
"A lot of people aren’t coming out now because they’re so scared.
"It’s nothing like what it used to be in terms of business."
Ms Hardy said that, despite not having been ordered to close this week, she has major concerns over the future of the business, having left a construction job to relaunch the historic pub just this February.
Hospitality businesses await further announcements over the coming weeks, with Boris Johnson reportedly having drawn up plans to temporarily close a large number of businesses operating in the sector across the north of England.
At present, the Liverpool City Region is the only area in northern England to have been assigned a Tier Three alert level.
Keith Lee, a Gateshead resident who frequents the Crown and Anchor, said he felt ‘a lot safer’ in a Covid-compliant pub than he does going to the supermarkets currently.
“It’s crazy at the moment,” he said.
"You’re allowed to go abroad and travel across Europe – I have friends who’ve just gone to Rotterdam for a wedding this week – yet, locally, it’s becoming more and more difficult just to go to places like the pub.
"I don’t even want to go out to the supermarket at the moment...They’re a lot busier than places like these, with much less enforcement of social distancing rules.”
Meanwhile, Carl Mowatt, manager at the Lakeside Inn off Leam Lane, told The Gazette that ‘more clarity’ was needed from the Government.
"It felt like we’d just begun to turn a corner before this week’s announcement was made,” he said.
"I’m getting loads of calls now where customers are telling me they’re confused by the new rules. And it’s no surprise – things are not exactly black and white.
"Since we’ve had to cancel weddings and wakes – which before was about 25% of our takings – we’ve had to try and come up with new arrangements, split groups up etc.
"It feels terrible having to turn groups away sometimes – but if the new rules don’t allow them, we can’t take them on.”
Pubs are also facing having to lay off valued members of staff as they struggle to make ends meet.
Mr Carr at the Crown and Anchor revealed he has been forced to shed four members of staff in recent months, owing to declining revenues.
He said he has six employees on the pub’s books still, with one isolating currently.
"We have a late licence at the weekend,” the pub boss added. “So, when you add all the hours lost to the new ten o’clock closing time requirement, it’s around two days’ worth of lost trade.”
At the Lakeside Inn, Mr Mowatt said: "Fortunately, a lot of our staff (are students and) have gone back to university, so we haven’t had to make lots of redundancies like some other places have.
"You’ve got to remain positive and focused during times like these.
"But it would make our lives much easier if the Government were clearer and more consistent with the guidance and messaging they’re giving out.”