Wet-led operators need guarantees of an upcoming restriction-free reopening, and reassurance that certain measures pushed forward by the health lobby will not remain long term, MCA’s The Conversation has heard.

Inception Group co-founder Charlie Gilkes told host Peter Martin that many operators, his business included, cannot operate at close to full capacity under social distancing and table service rules, and said it was “critical” that a restriction-free reopening date is eventually released.

Though the London-based operator has seen some progressive collaboration and decision making from several of its local authorities, Gilkes said there was cause for concern at a national level, with policy makers like Michael Gove and Matt Hancock potentially “out of touch” with most bar environments.

“They probably only really go to their local pub in the country, which is why they thought having a substantial meal or only going out with your household wouldn’t be an issue,” he said. “Local authorities are quite commercially minded, so the worry for me is on a national level, and whether the health lobby is using the cover of Covid to try and push for some new measures.”

Recent reports over the weekend have only exacerbated Gilkes’ concerns, with The Telegraph suggesting pubs and bars could reopen in April under a temporary ‘booze ban’.

Gilkes said a key point of misunderstanding between politicians, the public and the sector was the strict measures that wet-led venues are already required to operate under because of licensing laws, and added that reading headlines mooting further anti-alcohol policies was “demoralising”.

“It was worrying seeing alcohol flagged up in the papers as a possible issue,” he said. “There have been several times during this pandemic when we’ve learned what is going to happen through stories that break around 10pm ready for the next day’s papers.

“There’s a part of me that wonders whether Government are testing public opinion on various policies to see what the reaction will be.”

Also at the event, UK Hospitality CEO Kate Nicholls OBE said that all reports until 22 February, when the Prime Minister is due to outline his reopening plan, were “just speculation,” and urged operators to ignore headlines over the next few weeks.

“There doesn’t seem to be any attributable source for the speculation, and there certainly isn’t anything coming out of Government to be able to provide any counterbalance,” she said.

“We just need to batten down the hatches and ignore what we read in the newspapers until we can get confirmation from Government about what happens next.”