As speculation grows over which tier the county will end up in come December 2, the hospitality industry is contemplating the effects of continued restrictions to their business through the Christmas period.
Pubs and restaurants will be able to reopen in tiers one and two, but will be forced to remain as a takeaway-only service in tier three. Yesterday, the government announced three households will be able to form a bubble over Christmas, but they will not be able to visit pubs together.
But Ashford MP Damian Green took to the Commons yesterday calling for local district restrictions rather than a blanket countywide tier, arguing that decisions made which are unfair to a particular community run the risk of residents ignoring the government rules.
Brian Whiting, director of WH Pubs in Tonbridge, agrees that it would be unfair to restrict his four pubs from opening despite them being based in an area with a relatively low infection rate.
Mr Whiting said he was already dealt an unfair blow when his pub The Rose and Crown, in Orpington, was placed under London’s tier two prior to the second lockdown.
He said: “The whole thing is unfair, and it’s exactly what happened with us at the Rose and Crown – we were victims of being classed as London – but Orpington is one of the lowest places in the country.
“I think it’s disgraceful what’s going on with the hospitality industry – we definitely seem to be the whipping boys for the country.”
Mr Whiting believes there is no evidence to show why pubs should be forced to close when other businesses can remain open in high-restriction locations.
He added: “Everybody’s a bit bemused with what’s going on, and we can’t really fathom why we’re being victimised and singled out as an industry.”
Mr Whiting is not the only landlord frustrated with the government’s decision.
Steve Sitton runs the Made Inn in Ashford
Steve Sitton, manager of the Made Inn on New Rents, Ashford, said his business would have to remain closed – even if Kent was assigned the more lenient second tier – because they do not serve food.
The 30-year-old said: “For whatever reason because you’re eating, it somehow stops you from catching Covid – it’s madness, utter madness.
“It doesn’t make any sense, it’s a weird regulation to put in, I don’t understand it to be honest.
“I was out shopping the other week and I felt unsafe – no pub would ever let that many people in all at once.”
Mr Sitton maintains that people in his industry have done all they can to keep customers safe, yet the government continue to hit them the hardest.
He said: “Hospitality has really low transmission rates across the board, and that is through the implementation of probably one of the highest regulated industries out there.
“Publicans have spent thousands of pounds in perspex screens, in signage, hand sanitisers, employing extra members of staff, and yet we’re penalised more heavily.”
Despite the potential of Mr Sitton having to remain closed if Kent is placed in tier two or three next week, the borough of Ashford currently has the lowest infection rate in the county, with a rolling rate of 123 cases per 100,000.
Meanwhile a publican in Swale – which has the highest infection rate in England – said he would be frustrated if he was a landlord in an area with lower infection rates and still having to remain closed.
Chris Collier, manager of The Admiral’s Arm in Queenborough, Sheppey, said: “If I had my business sitting in Ashford I’d be spitting feathers right about now about Swale and the Isle of Sheppey.”
Unlike The Made Inn in Ashford, Mr Collier’s micropub also serves meals and would therefore be able to reopen if Kent is deemed safe enough for tier two restrictions from December 2.
But the prospect of having to remain closed under tier three rules weighs heavily on his mind – and he fears many of his fellow publicans could end up having to shut for good without the usual cash injection of the holiday period.
He said: “You’ll see casualties because people won’t be able to afford to pay their rent, even if they could afford to pay it through November and December if you’re shut you won’t be able to afford it then.
“Come January and February people will be handing their keys back to the landlords because you can’t go on forever.”
Damian Green calls on PM to restrict districts rather than counties
Despite fears that countywide tiers could unfairly affect some areas with lower infection rates, is does not look likely that a district-specific tiered system will be put in place.
Responding to MP Damian Green’s question in the Commons on Monday, the Prime Minister said: “Alas, the disease is no respecter of borough boundaries.
“We have to have some regions with which to constitute the tiers that are sensible and large enough.”
The decision on which regions will get tougher tiers will be announced by Boris Johnson on Thursday.