Coronavirus: Government made no assessment of cost to pubs of 10pm curfew, minister admits

Liberal Democrat deputy leader demands evidence behind ‘arbitrary’ restriction

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Friday 25 September 2020 19:07 BST
Streets of Soho all but empty as coronavirus curfew takes effect
Streets of Soho all but empty as coronavirus curfew takes effect

The government made no assessment of the potential loss in revenues to pubs before imposing a 10pm curfew on opening hours, a minister has admitted.

Now Liberal Democrats are demanding ministers either publish the medical, scientific and behavioural evidence behind the “arbitrary restriction” or reverse it.

And senior Tory backbencher Tobias Ellwood called on the government to “revisit” the policy, following scenes of drinkers crowding the streets, buses and Tube trains after pubs in central London all closed their doors at the same time.

Lib Dem deputy leader Daisy Cooper raised concerns over reports that the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) had not modelled the effect of the early closing rule for pubs and restaurants in England, announced by Boris Johnson earlier this week.

And she called for businesses forced to close temporarily because of the curfew to be granted an extension to furlough arrangements which are currently due to end in November, as well as business rate exemptions beyond April 2021.

In a parliamentary question to business secretary Alok Sharma following the announcement of the curfew, Ms Cooper asked what estimate he had made of the proportion of hospitality sales that occur after 10pm.

Business minister Paul Scully responded: “No assessment has been made, but we will be working with the sector to understand the impact over the coming weeks.”

The response came just hours before the first Friday night under the new regime, following reports of chaotic scenes earlier in the week as the curfew was imposed for the first time.

Mr Ellwood, the chair of the Commons Defence Committee, retweeted footage of drinkers milling around the streets after pubs in London closed early, with the simple message: “We need to revisit this.”

In a letter to Mr Sharma, signed by Lib Dem MPs along with five from Labour, one SNP, one DUP  and Conservative Laurence Robertson, Ms Cooper said that up to a third of hospitality revenue in some local economies is generated after 10pm.

She said: “Some businesses have already decided it will not be economically viable to remain open at all in light of the new 10pm closure time and these businesses will now have no choice but to lay off their staff entirely whilst this restriction remains in place.”

The letter continued: “Since the Prime Minister’s announcement, it has been reported that the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies had not modelled the effect of this curfew, key members have openly stated that there is no evidence it will be effective, and the behavioural science sub-group of SAGE had not been consulted on the measure to consider the consequences on how people will react.

“As such, we are urgently calling on you to publish the medical, scientific and behavioural evidence for what appears to be a completely arbitrary restriction.

“Without reconsideration of all the effects of such a closure, the future of our pub and hospitality industries are at risk.

“Industry experts are even warning of the possibility that this could have the unintended consequence of encouraging people to gather in less safe environments, with none of the professionally applied Covid-secure measures that are put in place by venues.”

The letter called on Mr Sharma to “act now to save our pubs and hospitality sector”

Mr Sharma’s Deparment for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has been approached for comment.

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