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 new lockdown measures. However, in light of the rapid spread of the virus across the country and the current transmission rates, these measures are regrettably necessary to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.
The closure of pubs has been difficult to bear and the Government is rightly providing significant support for hospitality businesses. It is reassuring that the Chancellor has unveiled further economic support for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, including pubs, in light of the new lockdown restrictions. New one-off top-up grants have been announced, worth up to £9,000 per property, to help businesses through to the spring.
For those businesses not eligible for the grants, a £594 million discretionary fund is being made available by the Government as a matter of urgency.
The new one-off grants come in addition to billions of pounds of existing business support, including grants worth up to £3,000 for closed businesses, and up to £2,100 per month for impacted businesses once they reopen.
I understand that pubs have been subject to debilitating restrictions for a long time, and I hear requests for a longer-term sector-specific package of support. While I take account of your concerns, and will bear them in mind, I welcome that pubs have had access to unprecedented levels of support throughout the pandemic. Ministers have been forthcoming in unveiling support grants, business rates relief, Government-backed loans and access to schemes such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. As a package, these measures worked to support publicans and I know that Ministers will continue to respond to developments as they happen.
I appreciate your concerns regarding the sale of alcohol for takeaway by pubs. While this has been permitted under previous restrictions, I understand that the Government is concerned about the impact that this could have on facilitating the unlawful gathering of individuals outside of pubs. As such, it has been decided that pubs may only sell food and non-alcoholic drinks for takeaway, although they may still sell alcoholic drinks as part of a delivery service.
As there continues to be a high number of cases, including of the new variant, 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 welcome that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended until April 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.
Despite this, 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 easing of restrictions as soon as possible. I will continue to do what I can to support our vital hospitality sector. For example, I led the campaign to cut VAT to 5% for this crucial industry which has since been extended until March.