Super Saturday wasn’t as super as some expected or, rather, hoped. The iffy weather didn’t help, but that wasn’t the real issue.
Aside from the understandable anxiety about descending en masse on the nation’s watering holes while Covid-19 still lurks – a quick straw poll of the Property Week team revealed that only a few hardy souls had braved a visit and the only person who confessed to a hangover had over-imbibed at home – a lot of pubs did not actually reopen.
As I drove around a surprisingly quiet Margate (weather was clearly too iffy for the DFLs – Down from Londons), I estimated around a third were still closed. It turns out that is probably massively understating the true number. According to the findings of a UKHospitality survey shared exclusively with Property Week, only 53% of the nation’s pubs and bars decided to reopen at the weekend – and some (5%) are unlikely to reopen until October or later. No wonder some experts are warning of a potential “mass exodus” of operators.
Unfortunately, Rishi Sunak’s mini-Budget did not offer the sector much solace. VAT is only being reduced from 20% to 5% on food, accommodation and attractions, not alcohol, although it will apply to food and non-alcoholic drinks in pubs. The ‘eat out to help out’ discount also applies to food and not booze.
Simply being allowed to reopen will not be enough to save a sector that was arguably already in terminal decline before Covid-19 – and the fact that some pubs that did reopen have subsequently had to close because of the virus won’t have reassured operators it is safe to do so. Unless we all suddenly start drinking for England (and I do think ‘Go to Work on a Hangover’ has legs as a slogan), I fear the outlook remains bleak for the great British boozer.
On the plus side, elsewhere, Sunak’s measures appear to have improved the outlook somewhat. The £3bn Green Jobs Plan sounds great, for instance, although as UKGBC chief executive Julie Hirigoyen points out, the devil will be in the detail. The £1,000 furlough bonus for every employee brought back from furlough and employed until January was also rightly welcomed, although some will say it is too little too late.
But as for the widely trailed six-month stamp duty holiday to stimulate the housing market, who is Sunak kidding? It will only last for six months and, as some experts point out, sales are taking longer than usual right now. I’m with the detractors who see it as a short-term fix rather than a long-term solution – and not much of a short-term fix at that.
Sure, people would save a decent chunk of change on stamp duty – if they can complete the transaction in time – but now mortgage lenders have reduced their LTVs from as much as 95% to as little as 60% they would still have to shell out up to eight times what they would have had to a few months ago by way of deposit. That is going to be prohibitive to all except those who have sufficient equity in a house they intend to trade in and/or could already afford to buy.
Like too many of the measures announced in the mini-Budget, the stamp duty holiday has a distinct whiff of the emperor’s new clothes about it.