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Landlord: "This could be the death of traditional pubs"

Ploughman landlord Andy Simmonds has hit out at the "deplorable" way the government has treated pubs during the coronavirus crisis. 
Ploughman
The Ploughman and the nearby Tesco. Photo: Google Maps

The popular Werrington pub, like many, has endured a terrible 2020, taking its toll on staff and customers alike.

Andy blames inconsistencies and ineptitude for the perilous situation up and down the country that could lead to mass closures and the death of the traditional pub as we know it, despite today's measures placing Peterborough in just the 'medium' tier. 

He says the track and trace system, almost universally regarded as a key tool in defeating Covid-19, is not fit for purpose - and in the case of the Ploughman the evidence can literally be seen a few yards from its front door.

Andy, who is a campaign officer for CAMRA, said: "It is deplorable. Boris and his band of merry men have created a system that is terrible. 

"Pubs will never ever recover from this. The government has basically trained people to drink from home and within eight months pubs will close, and supermarket chains will be the winners.

"My customers are responsible and enjoy going into my traditional real ale pub.

"But they could come into our pub and scan the track and trace QR code, then walk out and go 25 metres away into the Tesco to buy alcohol where no-one has scanned any code at all.

"I can absolutely guarantee you that there will have been one infected person in that store today, but won't have been tested. Everyone that would come into contact with that person, if they were then tested, would have to self isolate - thousands of people. 

"That's why this system is so terrible. It is completely loaded in favour of supermarkets and has been from the start - I know they did more trade during two months of lockdown than they would have done for Christmas.

"It is not pubs where the problems are, it's schools and universities. They need to sort them out." 

Andy and the team have tried to accommodate the curfew restrictions, even with the extra costs of implementing table service at the behest of "those with the big sticks in government". 

The forced changes led to the departure of one female member of staff, who felt uncomfortable with the process of going out to take orders at tables, which she felt was less safe than being behind the bar.

But problems were apparent earlier in the year, even from around the time of lockdown, said Andy, who has not taken a wage since the start of the year.

Businesses ground to a halt in March, and then as the warmer weather arrived there was a period where people became accustomed to a beer or two in their garden. Pubs, closed until July, were not necessary.

Worse still, in Andy's case some have made some particularly cheeky requests this summer, hoping to get cheap equipment from bars and restaurants that are suffering financially.

Andy said: "This year we have all seen people building bars in their garden, and I have had no end of people contacting me wanting stuff that I've got here for their own bars.

"I have always tried to support the community, with charity nights and live music. I go to planning meetings, I've run campaigns to stop buildings being turned into flats, I've reported anti-social behaviour.

"My father ran pubs in Werrington. I've worked in pubs 18 years; as a manager here for 15, and a business owner for 13. 

"I'm probably the longest-running landlord in Werrington. We have six pubs here and one micro-pub, which has not opened yet because of social distancing and a different business model.

"There has just been a massive decline in trade, and we weren't helped when Marstons put costs up last month."

Other costs come from a different source - the football pitch. For many fans, Monday night games have become a tradition since the mid-90s.  

However, with a 10pm curfew in place any cup match that goes to extra time or penalties would likely go past the new closing time - so many fans will question going out at all when they can't see the finish.

In a normal season a match between Premier League heavyweights Liverpool and Arsenal would attract a good crowd in a pub. However, for the 2020/21 season the fixture at an empty ground was shown to an empty Werrington pub. 

Andy said: "For these games on Mondays there is no point at all in opening past 8pm. Nobody watched it in my pub.

"It costs £1,368 a month for me to show matches from Sky, and £900 on BT. They have tried to work with us to come up with something for the price, but there's been nothing from Sky, so when my subscription finishes on October 22 that could be the end of it." 

There are grim times ahead. The government has to recoup hundreds of billions of pounds to pay back some of its emergency measures, which will no doubt hit everyone hard.

Even when people do return to stadiums, Andy believes the relocation of Posh to a new ground on the Embankment, and the new shiny bars and restaurants that will no doubt be part of the package, could be symptomatic of the type of venues that owners believe fans now want.

First, of course, we all have to get past Covid.

Andy said: "This could be the death of the traditional British pub. We will be turned into Tesco Expresses, if some have their way.

"I'm not anti-supermarket but we have got the raw end of the deal from all this. If the government really wants to breathe life back into pubs they should impose a two-year sanction on selling alcohol at supermarkets.

"But for now we have to deal at our pubs with a track and trace system that has never been implemented properly."





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