Business leaders have warned financial support is “imperative” if the hospitality and entertainment sectors are to survive after the prime minister’s roadmap out of lockdown.
Pub chiefs have said it will be “very difficult, if not impossible” to trade profitably once sites reopen in April under new rules.
Restaurants and other hospitality operators will be able to serve customers outdoors from 12 April at the earliest, Boris Johnson revealed on Monday.
But people will not be allowed to meet indoors in hospitality venues until at least 17 May and will be limited to two households or a group of six.
Some large indoor events, such as concerts and theatre performances, could return on the same day before all restrictions on social contact are relaxed by 21 June at the earliest.
Jonathan Neame – boss of Shepherd Neame brewery, which owns more than 300 pubs – welcomed the plan for a full reopening in June, but warned it will be “almost impossible” for the sector to be profitable with only outdoor opening in April.
He told PA: “With the April measures, we can open between a third and a half of our pubs, which obviously is not ideal.
“It will be very difficult, if not impossible, for pubs to be profitable like that but it is still progress.”
Clive Watson, founder and executive chairman of City Pub Group, said the announcement offered “hope” for those working in the industry.
He added: “Now we have to believe that the Budget will give us some certainty so we can rebuild.
“April would have been preferable for indoor opening but we understand the caution and are now at least in a position where we can now plan.”
But Patrick Dardis, chief executive of pub giant Young’s, said the dates set out for pubs reopening outdoors and indoors were “a whole lot worse than we had been expecting”.
He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “We were hoping to be able to open in April and worst-case scenario was that we’d be opening on the first week in May.
“So 17 May – at the earliest, I may add – is three months away and three months away means that the pub sector and the wider sector which employs 3.5 million people will be burning cash for another three months.”
UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said the sector was “obviously devastated its reopening will be so far away” and that a major package of financial support was “imperative if hospitality is to survive”.
Michelle Ovens, founder of the Small Business Britain organisation, said it was also “vital” that additional support is announced for small firms in next week’s Budget.
Greg Parmley, chief executive of Live – a trade body for the live music industry – complained his sector had found itself “at the back of the queue to reopen”.
“Any return to normality for live music could be months behind the rest of the economy,” he said.
“The chancellor must acknowledge our extended closure in the Budget and provide the economic support needed to ensure the jobs and livelihoods of the hundreds of thousands of people that work in our industry exist as we come through this pandemic.”
James Williams, managing director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, argued opening concert venues for “a handful of audience members” was “not economically viable without further government support” as he called for clearer guidance on when venues are likely to return to fuller capacities.
And Julian Bird, chief executive of the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre, urged the chancellor to continue the financial support packages available for businesses and individuals while theatres remain closed.
According to the Night Time Industries Association, 85 per cent of those working in the night time economy are considering leaving the sector.
Chief executive Michael Kill said the industry urgently needed more clarity on reopening and critical financial support “to avoid economic and social damage that will last a generation”.
Phil Clapp, the head of the UK Cinema Association, said he was “disappointed” not to be opening earlier, given the “exemplary record of cinemas in delivering a safe big-screen experience” before the latest lockdown.
But he conceded it was good to have some confirmation of when venues are expected to reopen.
Additional reporting by PA