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For Adnams CEO Andy Wood, a clear reopening roadmap would grant the sector far more than just an ability to plan.

With press speculation pulled in both directions from conservative backbenchers and health lobbying groups, hospitality businesses have continued to exist in a state of lockdown limbo; in the dark as to when, or how, they might reopen.

Pubco and brewer Adnams is no different, and whilst the business’ on-trade losses have been slightly abated by its retail revenues, Wood tells MCA that it hopes to open its 40+ sites as quickly as possible, with as little restrictions as possible.

“But more than that, we’d like a clear roadmap on what the conditions for reopening will be, and what we’d be likely to open into,” he says. “It’s necessary for planning, but it’s also good for the collective mental health of the industry.

“If we know we’re going to open on a certain date, we can all focus our attention on that and start to get ourselves geared up for it.”

And its not just those working in the sector that could benefit from a set date for reopening.

With no concrete lockdown end-date in sight, the collective will and optimism of the country is continually tested, but Wood says that given the central role many pubs play in local communities and as social hubs, some clarity on their reopening could have a significant, symbolic, impact.

“Pubs are the heart of communities,” he says. “The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker are gone, and pubs are the last ones standing.

“There’s a tremendous warmth towards the pub sector and getting them back open will be a massive sign to society that we’re moving back towards some normality.

“Pubs have a hugely symbolic role in all of this.”

Despite a “universal” will from consumers to support their local pub, Wood says the same can’t be said for the government, which he feels has deprioritised the sector in favour of other parts of the economy.

Adnams’ full year accounts are due to be released next month, and Wood tells MCA that the impact on revenues of continued closures and ever-increasing restrictions has been “profound.”

“Our diversified model has provided some lifeblood for the business, but it in no way compensates for selling beer to pubs and the income from owning a sizeable property estate,” he says.

“The Treasury’s own research has said pubs are not petri dishes for transmission, but it feels like we’re an industry that has been closed because other parts of the economy are being prioritised.”

According to the BBPA, around 6,000 licensed premises permanently closed in 2020, and if the sector is to avoid further losses, Wood says the government must significantly extend its support.

In a letter to the Chancellor last month, Wood called for an extension of flexi-furlough, business rates relief and the VAT cut until the end of the year, in order to both allow businesses to navigate spasmodic demand, and incentivise consumers to return to the sector.

Whether or not ministers come to realise pubs’ financial and social value, he says the recent interest of venture funds in the industry signals that it continues to be viewed as cash generative “and one that has a future,” adding that Adnams itself “might be” looking at acquisition opportunities.

“Adnams is an optimistic business,” he says. “We are hopeful, based on how the vaccine is rolling out, that the first bank holiday in May will be around the right time for reopening.

“And then there’s a real opportunity for community and rural pubs to bounce back strongly.”

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