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Friday, Oct 30, 2020

Pub chain says it will reopen on July 4 despite no government go ahead

A UK pub chain has said it will open all of its sites on July 4 because it ‘cannot wait’ for the Government to make a decision about whether it is safe.
Oakman Inns’ founder Peter Borg-Neal suggested the lack of clarity is putting jobs at risk, as hundreds of pubs urged Boris Johnson to name a reopening date by tomorrow – or risk hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The intervention will increase pressure on the Government to lay out its plans amid fears that thousands of pubs could go under unless they are given concrete advice on the next stages of easing lockdown. Health experts fear that opening venues too early could increase the number of Covid-19 cases.

Calling for clarity, CEO Mr Borg-Neal tweeted last night: ‘So Oakman Inns will be opening all sites on the 4th July. It would irresponsible for us to delay as we would be putting jobs at risk. To open without proper forward planning would also be wrong. We cannot wait for the Government to make a decision.’

And, speaking exclusively to Metro.co.uk, chief operating officer Dermot King said the company had been ‘inundated with bookings’ for the date and encouraged other pubs to join them in opening in 16 days time.

Accusing the Government of ‘not giving the country the leadership it needs’, Mr King did concede that his chain would have to change its plans if the Government ‘U-turned’ over the possible July 4 opening.

If new advice is issued which delays reopening, he said: ‘We will test the limits of the legal environment that they will have created and we will look for ways in which we can open rather than ways in which we can’t open.’

The Government had previously named July 4 as a possible reopening date ‘at the earliest’ – but there has so far been no confirmation. It also ditched possible plans to allow English beer gardens to open on June 22.

Yesterday hundreds of pubs warned that they could shut forever unless the prime minister decides by Friday when they can reopen.

Branding now ‘a moment of maximum jeopardy’ for the industry, an open letter to the PM warned that hundreds of thousands of jobs and thousands of pubs would be in jeopardy unless they can plan for the coming weeks.

It added: ‘Our businesses cannot afford to continue in limbo. Collectively our members are burning through an estimated £100m a month in sustaining their businesses in the absence of any income, and as the date for reopening of 4th July approaches even more money is being spent on preparing pubs to safely reopen.’

Oakman Inns, which has around 25 venues in England, has already revealed what its pubs will look like on reopening, with screens between tables and various other social distancing measures in place.

Mr King said pubs needed a three-week ‘lead in’ to prepare everything for reopening. July 4 is only a fortnight away on Saturday.

He said his pubs were ‘desperate’ to reopen and that the Government said they could do so if the ‘five tests’ were met – as the PM now says they have. Mr King also branded the debate around one or two metre social distancing guidance ‘divisive’ and said it should be reduced because there is no ‘scientific, analytical justification for insisting on a two metre distance’ – adding that it was ‘preventing businesses being able to operate’.

He said: ‘Most British people are sensible people, they are very keen to go out and start enjoying life again but are very, very health and safety aware.

‘We have been through different health challenges in the past – we (now) wear seat belts like we don’t even think about it and it is quite possible for us to operate in this environment safely.

‘We have got all those arrangements in place, all we need the Government to do is give a green light and it continues to… not give the country the leadership it needs.’

A Government spokesperson told Metro.co.uk: ‘We fully understand that the hospitality industry wants to get going and we are working with them on how to reopen safely, but we have to ensure we proceed in a way that is cautious and safe.’
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