FORCING pubs and restaurants to adhere to a 10pm curfew in a bid to curb the outbreak of coronavirus is “a hammer blow” to the industry, a leading hospitality boss has claimed.
Robin Hutson, chair and chief executive of the five-star Lime Wood Hotel in Lyndhurst, told the A&T that the new rule introduced by the prime minister on 24th September was unfair.
His complaints were backed by claims from the New Forest tourism group that earnings had been hit by up to 30% from the new rule.
Mr Hutson, who is also the chair of Homegrown Hotels which owns The Pig in Brockenhurst, said: “The government have got it completely wrong with this 10pm curfew – there is no scientific evidence to support it.
“In their crude attempt to curb city centre super pubs, they have unwittingly dealt a hammer blow to thousands of hospitality businesses in every corner of rural Britain.
“The New Forest area is typical of these areas with hundreds of small restaurants, hotels and country pubs affected.”
He added: “The hospitality industry has already demonstrated that it can operate safely since reopening in July and we have upheld and endorsed the hands, face and space measures.
“The government should see us as their principal safety ally rather than unfairly punishing us for the spikes caused by unregulated gatherings.”
Tourism group Go New Forest is also against the curfew and plans to lobby the government to review its decision.
Go New Forest chief executive Anthony Climpson told the A&T: “As the area’s lead tourism and hospitality body, we are lobbying hard for a change in the government’s 10pm curfew because since its inception our member businesses have suffered a further 20-30% reduction in earnings.
“The curfew disproportionately penalises food-led businesses opposed to drink-led businesses such as bars and pubs that don’t serve food.
“With evening sittings being brought forward to meet the demands of the curfew, it is very difficult for lots of people to arrive for an evening meal at around 5.30pm, on the other hand drinkers can start at any time of day.”
He added: “The really challenging issue is that social distancing has already significantly reduced capacity and yet demand is still as high as ever, so our wonderful local restaurants are being forced to take a big double hit.
“The issue is so bad Go New Forest has launched a special New Forest ‘Eat Out 4 Less’ campaign to try and stimulate demand throughout the day to fill this extra loss of revenue.”
Health secretary Matthew Hancock was challenged over the subject by New Forest West MP Sir Desmond Swayne in a Commons debate last week.
Sir Desmond urged him to give local authorities the power to decide curfews, saying: “A national curfew in the New Forest is rather unfair, given our very low infection rate.
“Restaurateurs and landlords have invested a great deal in Covid-secure measures and reduced capacity, and the loss of the extra hour reduces throughout, particularly for those that want a second sitting for dinner to come through, because it makes it very uneconomic.”
Mr Hancock said he welcomed the suggestion and added: “Of course I understand the impact on the New Forest – some of the finest pubs in the country are in the New Forest.
“We should keep this under review, because the whole point is to suppress the virus while having the minimum negative impact on the economy.”
He added: “[We] would not have this in place unless we thought it was needed. The science is about how, late at night, people end up closer together and therefore spread the virus more, and this will not stay in place one minute longer than it needs to.”
Commenting on how the first night of curfew had gone locally was James Hiley-Jones, the managing director of Greenclose Hotels, which runs Carey’s Manor in Brockenhurst and the Montagu Arms in Beaulieu.
He wrote on Twitter: “All smooth at curfew last night but last tables ordered fewer courses and less to drink. In a week where we’ve seen business on the books drop for September as consumer confidence is rocked.”