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Virus crisis leads to closure of thousands of licensed premises – report

Alan Jones, PA Industrial Correspondent
·3-min read

Thousands of bars, pubs, sports clubs and other licensed premises closed last year as the hospitality sector was hit by the impact of the coronavirus crisis, new research suggests.

Britain lost around 6,000 licensed premises last year, nearly three times than in 2019, according to a study by consultants CGA and business advisory firm AlixPartners.

The pandemic and wave of lockdowns led to a net decline of 5,975 sites in 2020, around 5% of the total, said the report.

The turmoil of 2020 led to the permanent closure of 9,930 sites, with just under 4,000 opening for the first time, according to the study.

A closed pub during lockdown
Pubs have been forced to close even to takeaway customers (PA)

The number of restaurants, pubs, bars and sports and social clubs all fell last year amid the ban on events and socialising, said the report.

“Our report takes stock of the huge damage wreaked by the pandemic on the licensed sector in 2020,” said Karl Chessell of CGA.

“With stop-start trading for much of 2020 and a widespread shutdown during what should have been a bumper Christmas, nearly 10,000 licensed venues have not been able to make it through, and it is sadly inevitable that thousands more casualties will follow.

“After such a bleak Christmas it is difficult to be optimistic about the market.

“But consumers are desperate to get back to eating and drinking out, and we can be confident that footfall and sales will return when the sector can finally reopen.

“In the meantime, the case for government support over the next few months is urgent and compelling.”

AlixPartners’ managing director Graeme Smith added: “The wave of closures seen across the hospitality sector in 2020 have been devastating.

“Longer term this may bring opportunities for ambitious operators, by freeing up property and labour and reducing competition and costs.

“However, right now survival remains the name of the game.

“The rapid rollout of the vaccine offers hope, but with restrictions unlikely to be lifted until Easter at the earliest, the coming months will likely see more sites lost for good.”

Lucy Powell, shadow minister for business and consumers, said: “The Government’s irresponsible choices have meant many businesses have gone bust on their watch and left the UK with the worst recession of any major economy.

“With many businesses still struggling and facing ruin in the weeks ahead, ministers must urgently put in place a comprehensive, long-term plan to support businesses through the crisis and secure our economy.”

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, commented: “These figures show what a devastating year 2020 was for pubs. Our sector is far from out the woods yet though and it continues to fight for its very survival through the pandemic in 2021. We fear things could actually get much worse before they get better for our pubs and brewers.

“Given this latest evidence showing how the Covid crisis and lockdown is ripping pubs away from their communities for good, it is more important than ever that the Government backs our local pubs and brewers.

“This means grants delivered to them immediately before it’s too late. It also means reopening properly along with a stimulus package that helps pubs to thrive including extensions to the Business Rates holiday and VAT cut, as well as a beer duty cut.”