Pub owner 'fears for the future' after using house deposit to keep business going during yoyo year

Jamie Johnson
·3 min read
Tom West - Jeff Gilbert
Tom West - Jeff Gilbert

In nearly two decades of working in pubs, Tom West has never found life as tough as it is now.

His family business survived the smoking ban of 2007 and the financial crisis of 2008, and he made a success of striking out on his own, taking over three establishments in the last eight years.

But now, even after ploughing in thousands of pounds he was saving for a house deposit, the future is still uncertain and the footfall is continuing to drop.

Speaking from his home in north Essex, the recently engaged Mr West says he is “fearful and frustrated,” and trying to navigate the myriad of new rules and regulations.

The 36-year-old’s business ventures fall under a difficult loophole.

Tom West at his Manningtree pub - Jeff Gilbert
Tom West at his Manningtree pub - Jeff Gilbert

The Marlborugh in Dedham and the Red Lion in Manningtree both sit in a Tier 2 area. 

Rules in Essex mean that people can go to a pub or restaurant, but may only sit indoors with up to six people in their household or support bubble.

A maximum of six people from different households can go to an outdoor pub or restaurant, as long as they are seated.

The Lord Nelson, in Ipswich, just over the county boundary in Suffolk, is still in Tier 1. There, the rules are more relaxed, whereby six people from different households can meet and sit indoors.

His Tier 2 pubs will receive financial support from the government of £2,100 a month, but his venue in Suffolk will not.

“It has been so frustrating,” he says.

Bar staff and chefs have to cross the border to go to work, some entering a higher risk region when they have vulnerable family members.

And some clientele have clearly been crossing from Essex to go for dinner in Suffolk, breaking the rules which say they should not mix households, even in another county.

“There clearly isn’t a policing policy in place to stop this happening,” says Mr West.

Three-tier postcode tool
Three-tier postcode tool

Then there are the finances.

“Why was this scheme not introduced earlier? I can’t believe there has been another government u-turn,” he says.

Staff morale was “broken” leading up to the Chancellor’s announcement, and redundancies were “imminent”.

“We are grateful for the support. That is important to say. We will still struggle to cover out costs, though, so it is effectively loss mitigation.”

Mr West is intent on topping up the salaries of more than 50 staff members so that they receive at least 80 per cent of what they usually would.

“We are a family. But it has been so up and down”

During the first lockdown, all the staff were furloughed but the business was kept afloat after an ingenious move to open a takeaway pizza service at one of the venues.

Then Eat Out To Help Out came along and they saw four times the number of customers coming through the doors on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday during August.

“It was brilliant for business but it also took its toll. We were operating at full capacity six days a week, and then when the scheme ended - nothing.

“We’re back to 25 per cent footfall now, and that’s not sustainable.”

“There has been a real emotional toll and there is no end in sight to this. We need clear instructions, clear guidance, and a pathway for what happens next. We haven’t got any of that.

“I do fear for the future of the business, but I am an opportunist and an optimist. If we survive, we feel that eventually, the trade will be there.”