Sunday, 4 April 2021

Moving the goalposts?

Back in February, I criticised the glacial pace of the Prime Minister’s roadmap for unlocking the country. Six weeks on, and pubs still can’t open even outdoors. However, I also said “If we are able to enjoy the second half of the year to the full, then we may look back on the preceding fifteen months as just a bad dream. A successful and prosperous reopening of the economy will erase a lot of bad memories.”

The promise was made that, subject to review, all the remaining Covid restrictions on hospitality would be removed from 21 June. I was truly looking forward to that first proper pub crawl of Stockport in the week of my birthday. And, if the restrictions on rail travel were removed too, there would be a lot of time to be made up in terms of pub days out. However, while I said I wasn’t making specific predictions, I did add the caveat that I wouldn’t count any chickens until they were hatched. In another post, I said:

There must then be a serious risk that the government would leave pubs in Tier 1 for a prolonged period. They could claim that the pubs had reopened, while ignoring the fact that they were still operating under such severe restrictions that both their ability to trade profitably and their appeal to customers had been seriously undermined. Tier 1 would be, for many pubs, a kind of living death.
I was criticised by several people for adopting an unnecessarily gloomy tone, although I could have pointed out that, so far in the pandemic, Cassandra had beaten Pollyanna about 10-2. And, when I threw down the gauntlet and offered a £10 each-way bet to a favourite charity to anyone who believed all the restrictions would go, not surprisingly, there were no takers.

Last week, the almost inevitable backsliding began, with the news that the collection of customer contact details for track and trace would continue at least until September. What is more, the requirement would change so that every customer was required to provide their details rather than just one person from each party. This is despite the revelation that, last year, the information collected was hardly used, so it was all a pretty pointless exercise. And, given that Covid is an easily transmissible disease that, in most cases, isn’t particularly serious, it isn’t even an effective method of infection control.

In itself, this is a relatively minor imposition and, as you were allowed to sign in manually rather than using the NHS app, it was in practice easy to spoof, so participation was in effect voluntary. However, on the margins it could be a deterrent to going to the pub – “Shall we have a quick one in the White Bear? Nah, can’t be arsed having to sign in again.” Plus some overzealous operators were insisting on use of the NHS app, thus excluding a large swathe of potential customers.

From the pub’s point of view, it imposes a significant administrative burden of collecting and keeping the manual records. Getting details from a large party arriving at a busy time probably needs dedicated door staff and could create a queue, not to mention a potential flashpoint. It’s easy to assume that most people will be using the NHS app, but this poll from a Cheltenham licensee suggests that is far from the case. And many tech-savvy people may choose not to use the app because they don’t want to have to suffer two weeks’ house arrest because a friend of someone who was in Spoons at the same time as them has had a false positive Covid test.

Given this, it’s easy to understand how many in the trade feel that the government are breaking their promises and moving the goalposts. What guarantee is there that they won’t let go on the other restrictions either? And it’s important to remember that these restrictions, especially as they affect capacity, make most pubs apart from those dedicated to dining unviable in the longer term. Many pubs would have been counting on a strong late summer and autumn to restore their finances. If this isn’t allowed to happen, a lot more are likely to go to the wall.

Then it was reported that “Johnson's 'roadmap' for lifting almost all restrictions by June 21 could now be dependent on a functioning vaccine passport programme,” which would have come as a bitter blow to the trade. This would in effect simply be replacing one regime of onerous restrictions with another, and again requiring pubs themselves to act as the enforcers.

I discussed this issue in depth last week. Fortunately, following an unprecedented level of opposition from across the political spectrum, it was announced late last night that the plans would be dropped for pubs and restaurants, and confined to large public gatherings. This was greeted with widespread relief, but on reflection it comes across as a classic bait-and-switch tactic, proposing a measure that goes well beyond what you actually want to achieve, and then being praised when you eventually announce something less extreme. Indeed, I said in my post “I suspect in reality this is something that won’t happen, as even if ministers wanted to press ahead with it, it would be derailed by the practical difficulties.” In an attempt to placate opposition, Johnson has stated that any passport scheme would only last for a maximum of one year. But where have we heard that kind of promise before?

I’ve not entirely abandoned hope of that Stockport pub crawl in my birthday week. But I’ve decided to temporarily change the blog title, and I won’t be changing it back until the day comes when I can again walk freely into a pub without being challenged or being required to provide any personal details, and order a pint at the bar. And I worry I will have a very long wait, although hopefully not until next summer.

Incidentally, the bet is still open if you think that, setting aside track and trace, the remaining restrictions of masks, table service, capacity limits and a ban on perpendicular drinking will go on 21 June. I’m not expecting my inbox to be overflowing, though.

31 comments:

  1. As a firm Brexiteer, I am sad to say the following. Only way this government is going to open the economy and life in general is if they feel pressure from countries on the continent and then are forced to follow suit. UK will not lead on this issue, it will follow, and grudgingly.

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    1. It's a pity we're not located right next door to Florida, really.

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    2. I hope that our government will do the opposite, in spite of Germany and especially France who’ve just imposed another strict lockdown. We no longer need to follow them.

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    3. Moving to Florida might be an eye opener for you!

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  2. I won’t be taking your bet, much as I’d like to feel confident about winning. It seems as if the illogical, unscientific persecution of hospitality will linger.

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    1. I wouldn't expect you to. But, for example, one person who shall remain nameless said "Always easy to tell the difference between Mudgie and a ray of sunshine..." which suggests he is (or was a month ago) considerably more optimistic.

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  3. I certainly agree that Track & Trace has proved a pretty pointless exercise, so I was quite hearkened to see the results from the Cheltenham Pub Poll.

    The app isn't on my phone, and isn't going to be either; in fact I don't know that many people who have downloaded it. The point you make Mudge, about being caught out by a friend of a friend who had a false positive Covid test, is a valid one, and seeing as I'm now just four weeks away from my 2nd jab, I'm far less likely to contract, or indeed spread the disease, anyway.

    So, if I have to give details, it will be old-fashioned paper and pen, and who's to say I won't be adding to the ranks of M. Mouse, or S.Claus?

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    1. The first line should have read "heartened," but I'm sure you knew that.

      Of more concern is the news that the government will be offering all citizens, twice weekly Covid tests. Not compulsory, of course, but let's wait and see how this one plays out. I'm wondering what they will do with people like me, who have no intention of submitting myself to an invasive and, by all accounts, rather unpleasant procedure.

      Will it be necessary to provide evidence of a negative test before one can engage in normal social activities, such as pub going, a meal in a restaurant or traveling on public transport? If so, we really are heading towards a very dark place.

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    2. As the government have now ruled out Covid passports for pubs (for the time being) the latter isn't going to happen.

      But I'd expect the take-up of these tests to be very low, as people will be frightened of having to self-isolate, and in any case most will just decide they can't be arsed.

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  4. I remember being 15 years old and I got sick of living in my parents house. It was a great place but the rules were, to me, nonsense. I just left and got on with it. We need to do the same.

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  5. Unfortunately it appears to me that the UK government is seeking to complete what it started in 2007 with the smoking ban - close down the pub industry.

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  6. Just wanna point out that over in Western Australia, where Covid has been eradicated, the state government continues to run a mandatory contact tracing scheme. There is no Covid here. Yet we sign in everywhere we go.

    You have the option to use the app or sign in with pen & paper. Most use the app.

    I've never heard of signing in deterring anyone from their plans, so I wouldn't worry too much about that. You get used to it pretty quickly. When you see the continued restrictions imposed elsewhere, you're pretty thankful for it.

    And while everyone must sign in, you can 'add' other people to your app, signing them in while you sign in - signing in large parties in seconds.

    We get the occasional outbreak in Australia (die to overseas arrivals). But, thanks contact tracing, the impact is minimal and short-lived.

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    1. It may not put you off personally, but the smallest things can make a difference on the margins of decision-making.

      And Australia won't be able to keep its borders closed forever.

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    2. Yep, the smallest things do indeed make a difference to the petty-minded.

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    3. Sigh. It's an established principle of behavioural science. Say, for example, that the price of beer goes up by 5p a pint. For most people, that will make no difference. But there will be some for whom that is too much. Nobody *has* to go to the pub.

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  7. A pub with table service and having to wear a mask inside is not for me so it looks like I will be enjoying my garden and beery picnics this summer.

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  8. Mild Drinker Matt6 April 2021 at 15:52

    Do we still need pubs? As a firm CAMRA stalwart I can get my local Jeremy Corbyn themed micropub tap to deliver me real ale to my nice home. The nice young man drops off the beer and we shout "f**k Boris" and wave at each other.
    I can sit in my garden and look over the fence and sneer at neighbours drinking their evil supermarket filth ignorant of the evil of this kind of thing.
    Surely this is the future of real ale, not pubs?

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  9. What a gloomy lot you attract Mudgie. Still, some points are valid. I don't personally worry too much about having to sign in, though I'm somewhat puzzled why we should sign in outdoors, where, by all accounts, we are unlikely to either catch or spread diseases.

    I'm much more annoyed - no - outraged that little to no use was made of the signing in data, though of course, you might get the warning that you have been near some infected bugger if you do so via the app. No doubt, even if vaccinated, you still will. A disincentive indeed.

    I'm more concerned that there is no real financial incentive for pubs to open outdoors and in fact, a real possibility of losing money. Also the near certainty of shitty weather making the whole outdoor thing a damp squib.

    I'll just add. You won't catch me drinking out of plastic glasses either.

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    1. We'll see whether it was gloomy or realistic when it comes to 21 June. But nobody has had the courage of their convictions to place a small charity bet on it.

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    2. I dont see it that its gloomy people, its people being understable gloomy about the prospect of when we will be able to return to normality in the pub trade, when the ink has barely dried on one roadmap for it to keep changing, depending still on whichever option gets leaked to the press and gets least pushback.

      and I just dont think what I consider to be a return to normal, being able to walk into any pub on the spur of the moment and have a drink at the bar, will happen in June, even with whatever small price to pay style conditions the government end up attaching to it.

      Ive already seen one pub reopening on April 12th, that has decided to ban smoking outside in its garden, its their choice of course, they are maybe more dependent on food than beer orders and perhaps concerned their diners wont return in numbers if people can smoke alongside them, but I suspect it wont be the last that chooses to impose some extra rules which makes going back to pubs even further from normal in that respect.

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  10. Great news! Apparently indoor payment will be allowed by the government if it's not possible to process the card payment at table. This is what we need, common sense and flexibility!

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    1. Yes, but you still need to order and drink/eat at the table. This was already how the legislation was drafted. It means it'll be permissible to walk up to a bar to settle a tab as you leave. Not terribly useful to pubs as it gives a lot of people in gardens the opportunity to 'forget' and simply to stand up and leave. I'd suggest pubs going down this route simply sort out their portable payment solutions, it's not difficult at all.

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    2. All of the pubs I know that will be opening for outdoor service have online ordering and payment which solves the problem of anyone building up a tab. Cash and non online card payments can also be accommodated.

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  11. Throughout this pandemic, it seems crystal clear to me that pub regulations have been drawn up by people who are not familiar with how pubs work. I'm also certain that there are some in official circles who would be delighted if our stock of pubs is significantly and permanently depleted by the restrictions.

    As for the app: my basic mobile phone couldn't accommodate it even if I wanted it.

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  12. The directors of Robinsons have published a splendid and very comprehensive response about vaccine certificates:

    https://marketingstockport.co.uk/news/robinsons-brewery-welcomes-challenges-to-vaccine-passport-requirement-for-hospitality/

    Bravo to them, this is big business fighting back.

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  13. Professor Pie-Tin9 April 2021 at 12:01

    The thing is in opinion polls Joe Public is quite enthusiastic about vaccine passports and is overwhelming in favour of tough measures continuing if it means keeping the numbers down.
    There's also an element of hypocrisy in those people happy with the idea of a vaxxpass for foreign travel if it means protecting local citizens abroad but getting a fit of the vapours about doing to same over here.
    I can also see the frustration in people who see the end in sight but it's not coming quick enough.
    We shyould celebrate the fact that the government has published a road map and is so far sticking to it.
    Here in Ireland - home to one of the toughest lockdown in the world - they haven't a clue what vaccines they will get or even in what month pubs might be expected to open.

    www.nationalreview.com/2021/04/why-ireland-has-the-most-miserable-lockdown-in-the-western-world/

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    1. I'm not saying that opinion polls are fraudulent, but there is a strong element of voting for motherhood and apple pie about it which seems to be contradicted by what people actually do. The amount of traffic on the roads suggests that people aren't really taking much heed of the message to "minimise travel".

      Not quite sure how they're doing it, but Ireland does seem to be introducing some kind of vaxpass from May. The unvaccinated are going to end up looking like Cousin It from the Addams Family.

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    2. I think opinion polls are not accurate in determining the actual mood of the populace, you can tailor the questions to get the answers you want out of them, they arent by any means neutral yardsticks, and Ive no doubt there are a bunch of people who think a digital covid id will be the best thing since slice bread for them, but if you drew a venn diagram overlayed with people who regularly used pubs pre-covid, I wonder how much overlap there would be between the groups.

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    3. I reproduced such a Venn diagram in my post about vaccine passports. Probably fairly similar to the one of supporters of the smoking ban and people who regularly drink in pubs.

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  14. Can't really understand why you follow the beer father commie cunt in your twitter feed (which I follow).

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    1. It says "inclusion does not imply endorsement", and there are several people on that list who I often disagree with, but Ed posts plenty of beery stuff that I think will interest my readers.

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