British beer and pubs may become a thing of the past

As ministers come to vote for the latest COVID tiers this evening, Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company calls on local MPs to help the cause of breweries and pubs which as a result of the proposed tier restrictions face an existential crisis.

First, let’s look at the numbers*, shall we?

  • A staggering 99% of businesses in the hospitality sector now fall in Tier 2 and 3 areas. That’s almost 160,000 businesses with two million staff. Of those, around 38,000 are in the top tier and have the choice of providing takeaways or closing altogether
  • Two of the biggest pub chains last week said they had cut more than 2,000 jobs between them
  • Around 16,400 pubs are in Tier 3 regions will be forced to close
  • Of the 21,091 pubs in Tier 2, just under two thirds will either remain closed because they don’t serve “substantial meals” or it is financially unviable for them to open

Those figures should make it crystal clear to anybody that the new tier restrictions will be another huge blow to the brewing and pub sector unless the Government steps in now. We understand the government has faced many difficult decisions as it seeks to tackle the spread of Coronavirus, but it seems unfair that hospitality is being targeted so specifically.

The UK brewing and pub industry has constantly adapted and changed in accordance with the latest set of Government guidelines to help mitigate risk. Millions of pounds have been spent on making premises COVID safe, with clear social distancing interventions, table service, hand sanitising, enforced use of face coverings, regular cleaning, one-way systems, clear ventilation and more. If MPs haven’t yet visited a pub since the fist lockdown ended in July, they should do. They are safe, welcoming community environments.

Whilst we do not have the knowledge, or data, to comment on the allocation of geographies into tiers, the restrictions in those tiers on our industry feel unfair, lacking in any sort of evidence and discriminately making a scapegoat of an industry that employs millions.

When asked to provide evidence, the Government can only make reference to three individual instances in Asia, a vastly different culture and where the controls introduced by on-premise establishments are nothing like those introduced in the UK. In addition, the one clear piece of evidence that is available from Public Health England is that transmission rates in hospitality venues are at 2%, which is significantly less than private residences, care homes and educational facilities.

As brewers, we don’t understand the rationale for the government encouraging congregation in unregulated premises over Christmas, when similar gatherings in regulated, safe environments in pubs and restaurants are massively restricted. For guidance to be communicated including not to play Scrabble or Monopoly at home and to have a drink outside round the fire-pit is astounding.

But perhaps the most non-sensical of all is that in Tier 2 it is suggested you can have a beer with a substantial meal, but when you’re finished, you cannot order a drink. Is that because the virus understands that when eating it must leave us alone? To make matters worse, in Tier 2 it is also suggested that you will be able to order alcohol without a substantial meal in music venues, theatres, sports grounds and cinemas but not in a pub. How is that fair?

With an existential crisis looming ahead, we’ve written to all CMBC’s local MPs and asked that they challenge the government on these decisions in the correct manner. Beer has suffered immensely during this time. We hope that many MPs will feel the same. And while the spirits sector has without doubt also been hit hard, the bottle of gin on the back-bar in a pub pre-lockdown is the same one still upon re-opening. Draught beer, and especially cask beer, does not have that luxury. Thousands of pints are being literally tipped down the drain and breweries closed due to no demand.

As a result, the Chancellor MUST give a significant excise duty cut to beer in the budget due in March to prevent the 2,500 UK breweries having to make some very difficult decisions, assuming they get to March.

The UK community needs pubs and beer; the supply-chain from farmers to glass manufacturers, to consumers, need pubs and beer; yet British beer and pubs may become a thing of the past.

Bruce Ray
Vice President of Corporate Affairs & Global Government Regulations

Bruce is VP Corporate Affairs at Carlsberg Marston’s Brewing Company. He joined Carlsberg UK in 2012 having previously spent 18 years at Bacardi Brown-Forman Brands, where he held senior roles in sales, marketing and corporate affairs. Bruce is also responsible for Government Relations & Public Affairs at Carlsberg Group globally. Bruce sits on a number of industry bodies, is on the Board of IARD, the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, is chairman of the Future Beer Group of the British Beer & Pub Association and an Executive Committee member of the Brewers of Europe.


Bruce Ray, Vice President of Corporate Affairs & Global Government Regulations