Those in attendance included VFI President Padraic McCann, VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribben, LVA Chairman Noel Anderson and LVA Chief Executive Donall O’Keeffe.
The main points that the LVA wanted the Committee to recommend to Government were:
- the extension of Government financial supports to facilitate hospitality’s longer-term recovery
- clarification on reopening scenarios for its members and what (if any) public health restrictions might apply post-vaccination
- confirm that there can be no justification for keeping wet pubs closed while allowing other parts of the hospitality sector to trade this Summer.
As a result of vaccination this artificial distinction between food businesses and wet pubs must end, it argued, pointing out that, collectively, the (pre-Covid) Dublin trade accounted for 30% of the national on-trade market and employed 12,000 people.
Both the LVA & VFI had supported all public health guidance from the start of this pandemic, beginning with their full backing of the Government request to close all pubs back on the 15th of March last year.
The trade has also come to realise that the most effective way out of this pandemic would be through mass vaccination to allow for reopening.
But during the pandemic, the licensed trade has had to deal with “the appalling ‘will they, won’t they reopen’ through several NPHET/Government review dates between July and October last year.
The VFI pointed out that pressures on the trade have been exacerbated by a lack of clear messaging over the past year. On a number of occasions publicans were ready to open, stock in place at serious cost and staff at the ready only for the rug to be pulled at the last minute.
Dublin’s food pubs are currently in their third lockdown, with their trading being restricted over the past year as follows:
- closed on the 15th of March 2020
- reopened on the 29th of June 2020
- closed for indoor service on the 18th of September but allowed to trade outdoors for maximum of 15 customers
- closed for outdoor service on the 21st of October
- reopened on the 4th of December 2020
- closed on the 24th of December 2020 and closed since that to date.
The LVA is now calling on the Government to publicly communicate the circumstances that must apply to allow the full reopening of the hospitality sector and the trading environment post reopening, namely:
- what percentage of the adult population will need to be vaccinated to allow all pubs/hospitality businesses to reopen?
- What level of community transmission will need to apply to allow our the hospitality sector reopen?
- Will it be the case that the pubs/hospitality can only reopen for vaccinated customers?
- Can the Government confirm that, post vaccination, the previous artificial distinction between traditional (wet) bars and pubs that serve food will be eliminated and that all pubs and other hospitality businesses should be able to open at the same time.
The VFI represents 4,000 family-owned, family-run small businesses in every parish, town and city outside Dublin County. The majority of these businesses have been closed now for over a year except for a two-week trading period last September and those who have a food operation.
“It is not just these families that are suffering” the Federation pointed out, “it’s their staff, the musicians that play in the premises, the comedians who perform in the venues, the suppliers, big and small, of both food and drink and the service people who ensure refrigeration and other services are running to required standards. That list is endless.”
While the Government supports have been welcome and helpful, they’re a long way short of meeting all ongoing outflows of cash, added the VFI.
“Bills continue to fall through the letter box – insurance, energy (all of the related government taxes and levies in particular), service costs like broadband, alarms, pest control etc.
“That is before we look at financing and banking activity. Some of the banks, despite their soft public words, are certainly not being supportive to the level required,” it pointed out.
As the VFI sees it, the sector now needs:
- a doubling of the CRSS to help businesses be in place when re-opening happens and a substantial restart grant prior to opening.
On re-opening the VFI believes there needs to be:
- an extension of EWSS until March the 31st 2022
- an extension of the CRSS for those businesses categorised as able to open but trading at less than 25% of normal
- an extension of the waiver on commercial rates until March the 31st 2022
- an extension of the 9% VAT rate to 2025
- a system of making finance available to those who want it at very low interest rates over a 10-year period, but outside the main banking structure.
These wage support schemes need to be guaranteed until at least next March to allow pubs to survive the Winter.
And given the extended closure the sector has endured the pub trade could not countenance any further separation between food pubs and wet pubs, stated the LVA, adding, “There must be a vaccination dividend in terms of reopening without restrictions”.
The LVA believes that a core underlying principle for Government must be recognition of the fact that the hospitality sector will require ongoing Government financial supports post reopening.
“This is to allow the sector to recover from such an extended Lockdown, noting that it will take time to re-establish consumer behaviour, time for office and other workplaces to return to full occupancy, time for international tourism levels to re-build and time for major events (sport, concerts, conferences etc) to be re-established.”
The LVA too pointed out that the entire licensed trade will require a significantly enhanced Restart Grant prior to opening again.
Taking account of the extended closures since the pandemic began, this should be set at a level double the Restart Grant Plus payment businesses received last Summer, it advocated.
The Association pointed out that hospitality and tourism have a proven ability to reduce youth unemployment right across the country and this must be a strategic priority for the Government post-pandemic.
In the meantime the trade had been subject to the longest most severe Lockdown in Europe and needs an extension and expansion of Government support in all its forms including a retention of the 9% VAT rate for hospitality until 2025.
Food & Non Food pubs & mental health
At a time when Government was advising the public to mind their mental health it was the cause of adverse mental health effects in this sector, pointed out the VFI.
The artificial divide created between food and non-food pubs also created unnecessary divisions and pressures, it added.
“The two things we’re short of in the trade are ‘cash’ and ‘hope’,” VFI Chief Executive Padraig Cribbin told the Committee in concluding.