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This should be a boom time for Tim Tomlinson, whose three Lancaster pubs would normally expect bumper takings in December as families, friends and colleagues gather in the run-up to Christmas.
Now the pubs and restaurants can only operate as takeaways as the area faces the harshest restrictions when England’s second national lockdown ends next week.
The wider district, which also includes the town of Morecambe, had the lowest case rate of all tier 3 local authorities, with 97.2 new cases per 100,000 population in the week to 21 November, down from 174.6 cases two weeks prior. Indeed, 150 areas that are due to be put into tier 2 have current case rates that are worse than Lancaster.
Tomlinson hopes they will all be able to make it to the spring but, without the December takings that would normally sustain them, he fears his pubs – the White Cross, Merchants 1688 and the Stonewell Tap – may not be able to hold on that long.
“It’s just survival until spring and then, from spring onwards, trying to get some form of recovery to make up for the losses we are making this year,” he said, adding that he expected not to make any money until 2022.
“Christmas, for the hospitality trade, is key to getting through October to February. January and February are extremely meagre and December is the one thing that can give you a little bit of a lift and carry you over. Without that, a lot of businesses are going to be on the brink or worse.”
And Tomlinson is not the only person angry that Lancaster, which has among the lowest rates of transmission in England, has been hit with the harshest restrictions when almost every other area with a similar rate was placed in tier 2.
Local political leaders argued that the city should have been among several areas hived off from the rest of Lancashire. They are furious that the whole county was treated as a homogeneous zone, with Lancaster – which is closer to tier 2 Cumbria than to the population centres of central, eastern and western Lancashire – lumped in with the latter.
Nevertheless, the main hospital trust serving the area, University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, treated more Covid patients on all but one day in the past two weeks than it did at its first wave peak in April.
Tomlinson believes a chance to secure the buy-in of people in the area was lost because Westminster failed to heed calls for a more localised approach. And, with the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, planning to make the issue the focus of his next “Call Keir” event on Monday, yet more anger may be directed at the government.
And Lancaster was not the only area of England to be told it faced tight restrictions despite having relatively low transmission rates: the same fate befell Stratford-upon-Avon, which was placed in tier 3 along with the rest of Warwickshire.
Paul Foster, who runs the Michelin-starred restaurant Salt, said the town has been taken aback by the news, not only because other areas with similar numbers are facing lesser restrictions, but also because the town itself was only in tier 1 before the national lockdown.
“I wasn’t expecting that – tier 1 to 3. Knowing a lot of people around Stratford, I think the general consensus is: what?”
He said that, until Thursday’s announcement, he was taking bookings for next week. “It’s devastating, to be honest. And what’s really frustrating about it is: I don’t feel like there’s anything we can do. What can we do to improve this?”
Foster, who has worked at the renowned Manoir aux Quat’saisons among others, said he did not disagree with the decision to place Stratford into tier 3 per se – factors such as the vulnerability of the local population and the availability of services had to be taken into account alongside the transmission rate. His problem was with the nature of the restrictions.
Both he and Tomlinson claimed the hospitality industry was being singled out and said it had already been subject to some of the most stringent requirements to be allowed to open at all. “It just, it just feels to me that hospitality in particular is being made a scapegoat.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘It’s just survival until spring’: Lancaster pub owner on the trouble with tier 3 | UK news