Alfresco dining and drinking could become a permanent fixture in England after the government said it would extend “pavement licences” to aid the recovery of pubs, bars and restaurants hit by the pandemic.
The plan is part of a hospitality strategy, announced on Friday, aimed at a sector that has lost 10,000 premises, forgone £87bn in sales and shed more than 350,000 jobs across the UK since the onset of the coronavirus crisis.
Restaurants, pubs and bars were granted temporary leave to serve guests on pavements last year, helping to offset the impact of indoor floorspace lost due to social distancing requirements.
While restrictions on hospitality and other sectors are to end in England from 19 July, pavement licences will be extended by a year until the end of September 2022.
The change could become permanent, the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) said, although that would require legislation.
Pubs will also be given a 12-month extension to temporary off-licences, also granted during the pandemic, that allow them to sell takeaway pints and meals.
MHCLG outlined the plans on Friday as it launched a hospitality strategy to be overseen by a council of industry leaders and government officials, including the junior business minister Paul Scully.
The strategy includes plans to boost recruitment in a sector that has been hit by staff shortages, despite suffering mass job losses over the past 18 months.
Jobseekers will be pointed towards hospitality openings via the Department for Work and Pensions, while the government will look at ways to improve training in the sector, including via apprenticeships and T-level qualifications.
At the same time, the government is launching a £150m fund to help communities save local pubs at risk of closure. Neighbourhoods will be able to club together to raise funds to save their pub, with the government matching their investment up to a maximum of £250,000.
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of the trade body UK Hospitality, said: “The pandemic has devastated the hospitality sector, and businesses are desperate to bounce back strongly and return to profitable trading.”
She said the strategy would help put the sector at the heart of efforts to regenerate high streets, which are facing an uncertain future amid difficulties such as mounting rent debt, staff absences due to test and trace, and a shift towards online ordering in the retail sector.
MCHLG said its hospitality strategy would also include help for businesses to reduce emissions and plastic waste, as well as measures to spur innovation by forging connections between hospitality startups and universities.
Nearly 12,000 hospitality venues in England are still unable to open under current restrictions but can do so from 19 July, according to industry analysts CGA and AlixPartners.
The change means that more than 8% of the UK’s 143,000 venues will be freed from restrictions.
Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are also due to lift restrictions in the coming weeks, although Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has maintained a midnight curfew on pubs and bars from 19 July, with face coverings and 1 metre social distancing remaining mandatory indoors.