Today, we announced a landmark victory for the hospitality industry – and one I’m personally very proud of – as we wound up our court case following the judgement that the substantial meal restriction imposed on wet-led pubs was arguably discriminatory towards certain sections of society.
As such, this ruling (made 5 February) forced the government to U-turn on the restriction in their roadmap announcement last week.
When we kicked off our legal case (The Queen [OAO Sacha Lord and others] vs Secretary of State for Health and Social Care) last year, we wanted to shine a light on the unfairness of the restrictions on the sector and discuss the legality around forcing wet-led pubs to remain shut, while those which serve food can reopen.
As night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester, I know that venues across our region serve a multitude of communities, all different in their own ways, and that wet-led pubs and social clubs, in particular, hold a significant place in building these communities, especially within our most deprived areas.
In Greater Manchester alone, there are 1,809 wet-led pubs and bars that were not allowed to reopen when the region moved into tier 3 in December and the meal restriction was imposed, condemning them to almost certain administration and bankruptcy.
The decision to punish these venues, while keeping others open, was a blow to our northern culture and showed a disregard for the most disadvantaged and oldest in society who are unable to afford meals just to be able to see loved ones or simply feel part of their local area. The measure clearly discriminated against and unfairly impacted on the poorest and most disadvantaged in our region.
As Oliver Wright, a partner at law firm JMW Solicitors, who represented me, said: “This case highlighted the lack of real scientific evidence to support the government’s policy, and their failure to understand its discriminatory effects on non-white and Bame communities.”
And although many of these venues have suffered, and unfortunately many have succumbed to the financial pressures of Covid, I’m personally pleased with the judgements made in our case. We have given hope to those clinging on – not just the business but the customers most affected, as we head towards the end of this crisis.
While the safety of all our residents across the region is our utmost priority, it is my role to ensure there is ongoing support for all who are suffering, whether that be financially or from a societal point of view.
As such, our job is not done and we will continue to work with those most affected across the night time economy and hospitality sectors to ensure all measures imposed on the industries going forward are fair to everyone. We have seen now that measures which are not based on scientific data can be questioned, and my legal team and I are already in discussions regarding the lack of evidence to justify the delay of the reopening of indoor hospitality compared with non-essential retail.
As the people who know this sector best, we urge the government again to work with us on decisions and plans to prevent these kinds of U-turns, and the mental toll taken on business owners just trying to make a living.
We are all working to the same end goal – to help as many businesses survive this pandemic as possible. Now there is a real opportunity to move forward.
Sacha Lord is the night time economy adviser for Greater Manchester and co-founder of Parklife Festival and The Warehouse Project
Sacha Lord will donate all court costs recovered from the secretary of state evenly between Hospitality Action and the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity