If Government looks to reintroduce the “ridiculous” restrictions on pubs seen under the tiering system, the industry “will resist”, Hawthorn CEO Mark Davies has told MCA.

Speaking following its third quarter financial update, in which the NewRiver-owned company reported it had more than doubled its CAPEX spend for the period and invested a total of £9.4m on 270 projects, Davies said Hawthorn was working on the assumption that pubs will be permitted to reopen by April.

The core of Hawthorn’s investment strategy has been focused on increasing and improving outdoor space in its sites, which is intended to increase capacity and comfort for consumers.

Whilst Davies admits this will provide an inevitable advantage to pubs managing ongoing social distancing restrictions, he emphasised the need for the removal of more draconian restrictions as soon as possible.

“I run a pub business, not a restaurant business,” he said. “It’s important that we’re allowed to open as a pub company, and not try and convince ourselves that we’re a restaurant.

“When we reopen, we can do social distancing in safe and responsible environments, and we’re the only industry that can do track and trace.

“But if there are restrictions anything like those at the back end of last year, we will resist.”

For a pub business, the 10pm curfew and substantial meal rule are “not manageable or workable,” he told MCA, and they “need to be kicked into the long grass where they belong.”

Although many of Hawthorn’s pubs are able to operate under a table-service model, Davies questioned its necessity, and added that ordering at the bar is comparable to paying at a supermarket till.

“There are more than adequate provisions to protect people ordering at the bar,” he said. “It’s no different from supermarkets where you’re allowed to queue and pay at the till, except pubs are far safer than supermarkets.”

Earlier this week, the British Beer and Pub Association, of which Davies is a board member, revealed that 74% of wet-led pubs were yet to receive the £1,000 Christmas grants promised to them by Government - support Davies considers “vital” to pub partners and independent operators.

He said the number of Hawthorn tenants having received grants are “not far off” the BBPA figures, and though there has been “some improvement” with processing applications this week, the issues often come down to bureaucracy.

“Government policies are announced but they they’re delegated to local councils,” he said. “Some are behaving themselves and cooperating and others are not. Sometimes I feel that they don’t have good cash resources themselves, and so they’re backwards at coming forwards on providing those support grants.

“It’s the application process that’s the problem,” he added. “They make it quite difficult for people to apply, sometimes deliberately so.”

Like the rest of the industry, Davies’ priorities for the 3 March budget centre around an extension of the business rates relief and 15% VAT cut, though he also emphasised a need for an overall “rebalancing” of the economy.

“We need further support measures and for the Government to find ways of taxing the digital economy so that money can be invested into communities, town centres and the high street,” he said.

“We want a rebalancing of the economy because some sectors have benefited massively from Covid and others, specifically hospitality, have suffered.”

But in the short term, the number one priority is for a reopening roadmap.

“We need absolute clarity about what we can do and when,” he said. “It’s hard to invest, and to encourage people to invest, when they don’t know what the plan is. We want to work with Government on establishing a roadmap in a collaborative way.

“We’ve got to get them to listen to us again and remind them of the importance of the sector, not just for employment but also in our contribution to the social fabric of the UK.”