The prospect that staff currently on furlough may not want to return to the business is a big concern for William Lees-Jones, managing director at brewer and pub operator JW Lees.

He told Peter Martin, host of MCA’s The Conversation earlier this week that alongside the issues of lack of footfall, and rent-related debt, the big worry for him is that there is going to be a lack of talent when JW Lees does come to reopen its estate.

“The one thing I don’t want to hear is managers saying they have had to bring in agency chefs because the chefs we have been paying furlough to have all decided to go home,” he said. He fears that some workers on furlough will have found alternative jobs in the year they have not been working in the pubs. “That for me is going to be the next big challenge that we will all face,” he said.

Lees-Jones said the business would look to open about a third of its sites from 12 April. They will operate with a slimmed down menu; some will only operate from Thursday to Sunday and others will not open if it’s raining. They won’t be taking any reservations, and in a large number of sites they won’t be offering any food, he said.

“It’s an opportunity for managers to manage – those that are desperate and say they can do it without losing too much money have been given a lot of freedom,” he said. “The thing that’s terrifying is that for some of our biggest sites in town centres, we just don’t think there will be people in those town centres for those to work outside,” he added.

Lees-Jones said that while the business was in a precarious position when it came to its financial position, it took the view at the beginning of the pandemic that the one thing its pub partners didn’t want was a big mountain of debt, “so for as long as every pub has been closed they haven’t paid any rent at all – and nor should they”.