TRADERS working in the hospitality industry in Gwent have made a plea with the Welsh Government to set a target date for partial reopening.

In England pubs and restaurants will be allowed to open indoors no earlier than May 17, while prime minister Boris Johnson announced it would follow an outdoor-only service, which should be allowed from April 12.

And in Scotland, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has set a fluid target of the last week of April for pubs to be able to serve food.

But, when Wales’ first minister Mark Drakeford was asked last Friday (February 19) when hospitality traders might be able to reopen, he said the reopening of pubs would not be included in the next two three-week reviews, on March 12 and April 2.

He added: "A lot will happen in that six weeks and we will learn a great deal about the impact on the circulation of the virus of re-opening schools.

"The (hospitality) industry was clear that they didn't want to be left in the dark. That is why I was clear with them that in the next six weeks our priorities will continue to be children and education, whether it is possible to open some non-essential retail, if there is any prospect of even a modest resumption in the tourism industry. Hospitality, if we can accomplish that successfully, their turn will come."

A week on, traders in Gwent’s hospitality sector have called for more clarity and respect.

On Friday (February 26) afternoon Craig Davies, landlord at the Red Lion at Stow Hill, was in the process of disposing of barrels of beer, which he says becomes more heart-breaking by the week.

South Wales Argus: Craig Davies

Craig Davies

“I haven’t heard anything from the Welsh Government since before Christmas," he said. "It’s difficult when you feel as though you’re being kept in the dark constantly.

“If I hadn’t had rent relief, I’d be looking at having to close now. I know of landlords in Cardiff shutting for good because they can’t afford rent.

“Even for those who’ve had a reprieve on bills won’t be able to go on for much longer.

“Landlords will be expected to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible to make up for losses, and with social distancing and less than half of the capacity allowed in, that looks really difficult. I’m not surprised some are thinking of calling it a day.

“We need more notice and communication with the government, because starting up a pub again takes weeks, it isn’t an overnight thing.”

Two regulars at the Red Lion have died since Christmas, which Mr Davies says has been difficult to take, especially under Covid restrictions.

“It’s been devastating, they were both really popular here, and to lose them at a time when we couldn’t celebrate their lives properly is so upsetting,” he added.

“We’re a pub with community at its heart with a group of really brilliant regulars who look after each other. Not being able to support each other in the way we’d like to has been really tough.

“A lot of the older guys certainly won’t be on Zoom or social media. I worry about them.

“Having a date set would really help us all – it would lift the mood which is vital for us at the moment. But it is also crucial we get at least a few weeks to make sure we’re ready and can make the most of it when we do reopen.”

Raj Neupane, manager of The King’s Head and Regency in Abergavenny, hasn’t had rent relief, and says he is “on the verge of being in a very difficult position”.

South Wales Argus: Raj Neupane

Raj Neupane

“I’m not asking to open now or even at Easter, I just would like a rough date so we can prepare while having that target to work towards,” he said.

“We know the picture can change and that date can’t be specific, but being in limbo every day is very difficult.

“We will need to retrain staff, deep clean, order stock, and hold lots of meetings before that opening date – you can’t do that properly with three weeks’ notice.

“But it’s important when we do open it isn’t just for a few weeks before we have to close again, because that will kill us. We need to open properly, so we’re more than prepared to wait.”

Mr Neupane has had support from the government and county council in installing parklets outside his premises to entice people to sit outside when he can open, but he says the funding he’s received has been generally poor.


“My rateable value is just short of £51,000, which means I get the same amount of funding as a café that has a rateable value of £10,000,” he explained. “That’s difficult to take and it seems far too rigid to just say businesses below £51,000 get one sum and businesses above the threshold get more.

“The funding we have received has been a few thousand pounds since Christmas – it’s not enough to afford half the bills.

“I am confident we can get through this and that we’ll be stronger for it, but we need some more communication and support to allow that to happen.”

Jon Bassett, owner of a host of pubs across Newport and Cardiff, is busy preparing a plush new outdoor space at the Pen and Wig in Newport, which he hopes will bring in some much-needed revenue for the pub when it opens.

South Wales Argus:

Jon Bassett

Ahead of Wales’ Six Nations game against England in Cardiff on Saturday, Mr Bassett says it will be a particularly dark day for all pub traders across the country.

“I was shocked and really disappointed today (February 26) when I switched the TV on for the coronavirus conference to see the two doctors (Dr Andrew Goodall and Dr Frank Atherton) holding it,” he said.

“I was expecting after Boris Johnson’s road map this week that Mark Drakeford would be out today telling us of what we can expect over the next few months given what the data is telling us. Why aren’t we getting any clarity?

“It is difficult. This week (due to the Six Nations) we’d have been doing very well from Wednesday right through to Monday, but we’re trying to stay positive.

“We have some exciting work going on at the Pen and Wig, including a separate bar, AstroTurf and a TV outside. We’re hoping that will be being used by April, but we just don’t know – we haven’t heard a thing.”

In Magor, a group of friends took on the running of the Golden Lion at the village square in October, but they’ve since spent just a few weeks being partially open during that period.

South Wales Argus: Landlord Andrew Cox (left) and Paul Turner at the Golden Lion

Landlord Andrew Cox (left) and Paul Turner at the Golden Lion

On Friday they were also in the process of setting up an outdoor bar area ready for reopening, but director Paul Turner says it has become more frustrating by the week not knowing when that time will come.

“It’s been a difficult period and not what we’d hoped for, but we’re confident about the future," he said. "We are really keen to get a target for being able to open outside.

“During the period we were open up to Christmas we just about broke even, because we weren’t able to sell alcohol. Since then, even with rent relief, we are losing money every week. We hope with the outdoor area things will start looking up.

“But it’s no good constantly being told ‘we’ll see what things are like in three weeks’ time’ – we need a proper plan to make sure we’re able to open so we’re ready and we can keep people safe and make a living.

“There are a hell of a lot of people employed in this industry, whether Mr Drakeford likes it or not, and they can’t keep being pushed away.”