Hospitality businesses in West Yorkshire back CAMRA campaign to allow pubs to trade as off-licences during lockdown

Hospitality businesses in West Yorkshire are backing a national campaign calling on the Government to allow pubs to operate as off-licences during lockdown.

It comes after a change in rules which states that pubs can now only sell alcohol via home delivery and not through a collection service as in previous lockdowns.

The national Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) has launched a campaign calling on the Government to change this rule and allow pubs to sell alcohol in sealed containers for people to take away. It has been backed by the Leeds CAMRA branch.

Rob Needham, 34, is the co-owner of the Market Tap in Carlton Street, Castleford.

Rob Needham co-owner of the Market Tap in Castleford is supporting a CAMRA campaign to allow pubs to operate as off-licences during lockdown. Photo: Jonathan Gawthorpe

He began selling takeaway craft beer from his pub when lockdown hit but was ordered to stop after a passer-by reported him to the council.

Mr Needham said: “We are in a bit of a grey area as we do hold an off-licence because we run a bottle shop as well as the pub, so we interpreted the rules to mean we were allowed to trade.

“However, after someone reported us, a council officer ordered us to stop letting people collect from the pub and only offer deliveries.

“I don’t think we were doing anything wrong to be honest and it is very frustrating but for some bizarre reason, I am not allowed to utilize the bottle shop off-licence at this time.

The Market Tap in Castleford.

“Our customers have always preferred to call round rather than get it delivered so there is a risk of losing trade. Luckily we’ve had a lot of support because Castleford is a great town.

“I know we could argue that people should not be coming out just for beer but a lot of our customers nip by while they're walking the dogs or doing daily exercise.

“I would say we were safer than an traditional off-licence or supermarket because we've got nothing on display for people to touch, it's all behind the bar, and we get a lot less people.

“We were just getting enough business to keep us afloat really so it is a kick in the teeth.”

Mark Costello, owner of Horsforth Brewery. Photo: Gary Longbottom.

The father-of-three added: “The rules are a slight alteration to the last lockdown and I just don't know what benefits are.

“With hospitality struggling anyway it just seems a bit draconian to push it so far.

“People say pubs are not essential which is fine but I think they are missing the point - allowing us to have this bit of trade and make ends meet will make sure we can stay open after all this ends.

“We don’t have a wad of cash to fall back on. The takeaway allows us to just break even. It is a matter of surviving.”

Amity Brew Co's Verity Clarke and Russ Clarke (picture: Neash photo/video).

Mark Costello, 36, owner of Horsforth Brewery in New Road Side, Leeds, also expressed concerns that the measures to prevent pubs from selling takeaway alcohol would have a financial impact on businesses.

Mr Costello, from Horsforth, said: “I think it is a travesty that businesses are left suffering and people are losing jobs.

“I completely agree that as long as businesses have got an off-licence they should be allowed to sell takeaway alcohol.

“Pubs are being left with all these expenditures like rent but they are not even allowed to trade.

“I always say that I am more than happy for any restrictions that come in to stop the virus spreading and hopefully bring us back to some sort of normality but the government has to support the businesses that they are closing.

Mr Costello added: “Part of the problem you've got with takeaway beer is that some people did abuse it, whether that be bars or individuals, so I can see why they are not allowing it, but it also makes no difference really because those same people will be allowed to go to the supermarket and buy some tinnies and go sit in the park if they want.

“If you are going to ban an avenue of sales for one part of the industry, why can you not ban it for everybody? There's some winners in this pandemic and the supermarkets are one of them.

“I try not to be too doom and gloom because the Leeds indie scene is strong but we may lose some businesses and the individual human impact of that isn't being considered by the Government.”

Verity Clarke, is the co-owner of Farsley-based Amity Brew Co, which was founded by husband Russ and his business partner Rich Degman in 2020.

Mrs Clarke, 38, from Calverley, said: “We are unique in that we are classed as a brewery, taproom and a retail business, however, we feel for the industry as a whole as we think this will have a massive impact.

“We have all worked in pubs ourselves and we feel this is unfair.

“If pubs can’t sell their draught beer, not only are thousands of gallons going to be thrown away, but it will impact every part of the supply chain from the people who provide the ingredients to the pub staff themselves.

“We have been told by so many customers that their only choice is going to be either buying in bulk online, which might be out of some people's price point, or going to the supermarkets.

“They don't want to do that, they want to support local and independent but the opportunity has been taken out of our hands.”

CAMRA’s National Chairman Nik Antona said: “It is unfair that whilst big supermarkets can continue to sell alcohol, our struggling local pubs in England can’t act as an off licence too.

“This was a real lifeline for many pubs during previous lockdowns and is desperately needed again now, with landlords up and down the country struggling to make ends meet after months of closures, curfews and restrictions. Pubs are also the only place where people can get cask beer which is under threat due to months of forced pub closures, with some breweries stopping production.

“The least the Government can do is take a sensible approach, think again and allow community pubs to sell takeaway products. No-one wants to see drinking in the streets during a lockdown – but allowing pubs to sell alcohol in sealed containers for people to take home – just like shops do – would be completely reasonable.

“Without a change in these lockdown laws we risk seeing more locals going to the wall, traditional British cask ale under threat and people being forced into supermarkets instead of being allowed to support local businesses by buying beer from the pub to take home.”