HUGH OSMOND: A generation of youngsters has been betrayed

A generation of youngsters has been betrayed: After last orders are called on Wednesday night, many of these businesses will not be re-opening their doors, writes founder of Punch Taverns HUGH OSMOND

What a desperately sad moment it will be when last orders are called on Wednesday night in pubs and bars across the nation.

It’s not just that the occasion will mark the last time for at least a month that anyone can enjoy a drink in comfort away from home – but with the shock announcement that the country is going to be plunged into lockdown for the second time this year, the reality is that for many entertainment venues this really will be time at the bar.

Make no mistake, once the last meal is served and the last pint pulled, a swathe of these establishments will not be re-opening their doors. Having struggled through the first lockdown, they can’t survive a second.

In August, a survey by the trade body UK Hospitality found that 75 per cent of hospitality businesses were at risk of insolvency as they struggled to find a way to stay open. Further research within the industry suggests a similar number have already been in talks with insolvency practitioners.

The run-up to Christmas, traditionally the busiest time of year for the industry, offered a glimmer of hope. But with Michael Gove’s warning yesterday that this lockdown may well last more than a month, Christmas is already over in the hospitality industry.

Restaurant staff put outdoor seating in place as a venue opens in the Soho district of London earlier this month 

This catastrophe is, however, about so much more than the depressing prospect of seeing boarded-up pubs, bars and restaurants, places that for generations have been the warm, hospitable heart of our villages, towns and cities.

Nor is it solely about the knock-on effect of such closures on suppliers and services: fishmongers, butchers, bakers, florists, cleaners and launderers. All will be hit hard, with hundreds of thousands of jobs in peril.

But my greatest fear is for the young people who, for the most part, staff our establishments – an entire generation who despite being at virtually zero risk from Covid-19 will pay the heaviest price of all.

Hospitality, along with retail, is the biggest employer of school and university leavers in the UK. Some have few qualifications – the only prerequisite for the job is a friendly disposition and a readiness to work hard. But as many of them are inevitably forced out of work, between 30 and 50 per cent of under-25s could soon be facing unemployment. This is likely to be accompanied by a rise in mental health issues, even homelessness. We can also expect to see a rise in drug abuse and suicide rates.

As the father of three teenagers, aged from 14 to 19, I believe this government has betrayed an entire generation of young people. And for what? writes HUGH OSMOND. Pictured: Revellers in an outdoor bar in Soho

Hospitality, along with retail, is the biggest employer of school and university leavers in the UK. Pictured: A busy Soho bar

Remember, these are people who are unlikely to have savings to fall back on. Most of the money they earn is spent on rent and food. Without it, they cannot survive for long. The Government’s furlough scheme is not a long-term solution. There is no magic money tree.

As the father of three teenagers, aged from 14 to 19, I believe this government has betrayed an entire generation of young people. And for what? They are not driving this disease – nor are they, in general, at risk from it. It’s also a complete myth that entertainment venues have been the driver of coronavirus infections or that the Eat Out to Help Out scheme contributed to its spread.

The evidence simply doesn’t not back this up. Last week, a survey of 22,500 pubs, bars and restaurants across the UK reported only 275 NHS Test and Trace incidences. That’s around 1 per cent.

The latest data from Public Health England also shows that hospitality was linked to just 2.7 per cent of all Covid-19 incidents in England – compared with 32 per cent in care homes and hospitals. While the Government has been cherry-picking statistics to back up its policy, the evidence clearly shows that infections are spreading most widely in care homes and hospitals – 12,500 known locations across the country.

Last week, a survey of 22,500 pubs, bars and restaurants across the UK reported only 275 NHS Test and Trace incidences. Pictured: A bar in Soho earlier this month

Surely it is more feasible to protect their occupants – around half a million people – than to stop a population of 67million from socialising. You could spend nearly £1million on each of these 12,500 establishments for things like mandatory fast testing and that would still be less money than has been wasted on the failed Test and Trace system.

As I write this, I am sitting in a bar in central London, one of those owned by my own group, Various Eateries. There are 60 or 70 people in the room, all of them, at a guess, under 30. The tables are full, the atmosphere is buzzing, the staff are hard at work despite the myriad questions they have about the future and what it will look like.

None of us, of course, can know for sure, but what I do believe is that Boris Johnson’s government has turned its back on our young people. They will pay a heavy price for doing so, not least at the next general election when they will undoubtedly be held to account by those they betrayed.

Hugh Osmond is the founder of Punch Taverns, one of the UK’s largest pub chains

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