‘A million jobs at risk’ as pubs demand urgent furlough extension

Restaurants and pubs are already suffering a drop in trade following the introduction of a 10pm curfew for hospitality outlets

Pub bosses have demanded a full extension of Rishi Sunak's furlough scheme to protect up to a million jobs as the industry steels itself for sweeping closures in the North of England within days.

Boris Johnson is mulling plans to shut hospitality venues in parts of the country hit hardest by Covid as the Government battles to control surging infection rates.

It comes after Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon ordered the closure of pubs and restaurants across central Scotland, with venues in other parts of the country only allowed to serve alcohol outdoors until 10pm.

Closures in the North would deliver a body blow to the industry, with restaurants and pubs already suffering a drop in trade following the introduction of a 10pm curfew for hospitality outlets.

Bosses are now urging the Chancellor to extend his furlough scheme for businesses facing closure under localised lockdowns. 

The taxpayer-funded programme has been a lifeline for many businesses throughout the pandemic but is set to end on Oct 31. Firms argue that the Chancellor’s replacement job support scheme is inadequate, because it only applies to staff working at least a third of their hours and requires a top-up from the employer.

Nick Mackenzie, chief executive of Greene King, said: "The new job support scheme does not go far enough. It is imperative that we have a furlough scheme to protect jobs and other costs through the winter."

Patrick Dardis, chief executive of Young's, said: “We need 100pc furlough support to be introduced from the day that there are lockdowns otherwise there are hundreds of thousands if not a million jobs across the industry that will be at risk."

Young’s warned last week that it would have to make around 500 workers redundant by the end of October as the furlough scheme ends.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality, said: “If the Government closes pubs, bars and restaurants across certain parts of the country, then we need an immediate reversal to full furlough so that no contribution is required by employers.

“For the rest of the sector we need the job support scheme to be tweaked to provide a full government top-up with the employer only paying the hours worked.”

Boris Johnson is facing mounting opposition over the curfew, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer demanding that the Government publishes the “scientific basis” for the rules. Meanwhile up to 100 Tory MPs are planning to rebel against the Prime Minister at a vote on the measures next week.

The boss of one major pub chain expressed “growing resentment” towards Government over the rules, which operators have branded “utterly stupid” arguing that they "do the opposite of protecting people”. Mr Dardis said the health secretary Matt Hancock is treating hospitality as it t is an “enemy”.

This week Greene King said it would cut up to 800 jobs and close a string of pubs as the new closing time had made them unviable.

The Conservative peer Lord Forsyth said pubs should consider taking the Government to court over its restrictions on the hospitality sector.

Writing on Twitter, he said: “Time please for licensed trade to see ministers in court.

“Powers in Public Health Act seem limited to controlling infected persons and contaminated premises. Nicola has gone too far and Boris must not follow.”