Loungers chairman Alex Reilley has excoriated the government’s communication over the lifting of lockdown as “maddening” and “irresponsible”.

Reilley, who co-founded the 167-strong café-bar group, accused ministers of a “dereliction of duty” for failing to signal clearly to the sector when it would be able to reopen.

Speaking on MCA’s The Conversation, he said the new date of 22 June for opening outside was “nonsense” as no operator would be able to be ready with just two weeks warning.

Loungers has hired a 22,000sq ft warehouse for furniture cleared out to make space for two-metre social distancing, “a feat in its own right”, but which may soon have to go back if the government revises this down to one meter, he said.

His points were echoed by Various Eateries CEO Hugh Osmond, while UKH CEO Kate Nicholls acknowledged mistakes had been made in the government’s messaging.

Reilley said: “I think the indecision and the lack of knowing what’s going to happen is maddening.

“The lack of any kind of telegraphing in terms of what the plan is, is frankly irresponsible of government

“They are not giving us anything like a sufficient grown-up steer about what is going to happen and when.

“This whole thing about the 22nd of June, it’s just nonsense. Nobody’s going to be ready to open then.

“Why throw out populist remarks in the press, to make out suddenly the government are beginning to realise the extent of the issue for the sector?

“The way that the government has conducted themselves in the last few weeks, there’s been a dereliction of duty.”

Osmond, the founder of Punch Taverns, has been outspoken critic of government policy on coronavirus and believes the strategy was misguided from the outset.

He said: “The government has caught themselves in a fatally flawed policy that was wrong from day one on how they approach the disease.

“They did endless preparation for a flu epidemic but didn’t adapt it for covid.”

Nicholls was more diplomatic in her assessment of the government’s performance, praising it for “working hard to keep the plates spinning” as it dealt with a public health crisis, an economic crisis and a jobs crisis.

But she echoed Osmond’s point that planning was too focussed on a flu pandemic, rather than the novel coronavirus.

She said: “The countries across the world that have recovered quickest, are those where the government has been really clinical about moving into lockdown quickly and being categoric about what you can and cannot do, while simultaneously being clear about what when lockdown ends and how you lift the measures.

“Those are the ones that have recovered more quickly, where the economy has got back to normal, where businesses have had a degree of certainty.

“I think what we’ve had over the last couple of weeks is too much uncertainty too much vagueness, and even worse in Scotland, Wales, and to a lesser degree in Northern Ireland, where there aren’t any dates. At least in England we’ve had a date to work towards which has been indicative.

“Handling the communications to come out of lockdown is where the government has been found to be lacking.

“That’s probably where they were hoisted by their petard, because they had such a strong message about lockdown. It was very clear, it was very simple and it was very emotive around the NHS.

“It’s really hard to unwind such a firm message. And I think they’ve struggled to get their heads around that and have been knocked off course by a number of high-profile events.”