Loungers chairman Alex Reilley is hopeful that with falling infection numbers, there will be growing calls for an acceleration of the reopening roadmap.

Speaking on MCA’s The Conversation, Reilley said it would be “absurd” if there was little covid-19 circulating, but the hospitality industry was still forced to remain shut.

He also called for firmer leadership from the Government to resolve the rent arrears issue, and called for operators and landlords to do more to meet in the middle to reach a solution.

In conversation with MCA contributing editor Peter Martin, Reilley said pressure would have to be maintained to ensure the sector is not burdened with onerous restrictions.

He said: “There is some genuine light at the end of the tunnel, but we need to hold the Government’s feet to the fire around these restrictions being completely loosened, because you get the sense that once we reopen on the 17 May, that urgency may fall away with regards to the Government, thinking ‘we’ve done our job, the hospitality sector has reopened’.

“As we know very well, the conditions we had to open under in July last year were far from normal.

“Collectively we invested in hundreds of millions of pounds in making our venues Covid-secure and we had capacity constraints, so seeing a return to normality would be very welcome.”

The other major issue still unresolved for Reilley was rent. As a leasehold business, he said the experience at Loungers with more than 160 individual landlords was a “mixed bag”, with some reasonable and collaborative, but others “willing to slice off their nose to spite their face”, and expecting to be paid in full.

Reilley said: “The Government are not responsible for having to resolve this problem because it’s a private dispute. But we’re looking for them to provide much firmer leadership and guidance in trying to try to find a resolution.

“Kicking the can further down the road by just extending the moratorium isn’t going to solve the problem.”

The Loungers chairman acknowledged there were two sites to the dispute, and trashing landlords was futile.

He added: “There has to be an acceptance from both sides that everyone needs to come a bit closer to the campfire to talk about this, because there are lots of operators who feel that they shouldn’t pay any rent at all, and lots of landlords that feel that they shouldn’t lose a penny, and when we start from polar opposite we’re never going to find any agreement. There has to be a reality check from all sides in order for us to find a solution.”

Reilley said the sector should remained focussed on solving the immediate arrears issue, rather than being side-tracked with a major overhaul of property law.

He added: “This is not an opportunity for us to bludgeon through comprehensive changes to the way leasehold rent reviews are conducted. If we try and do that we’re going to get nowhere.

“We need to recognise the simple fact that a lot of rent is unpaid, and a lot of businesses that don’t have the means to pay it, and we have to find a solution.

“If we turn it into something that’s a lot more complex, the landlords won’t want to engage in any shape or form.”