Publicans counting the cost of lost Christmas trade as Northumberland set to move into Tier 3

Northumberland publicans have called for more financial support after being told they will have to stay closed.

The Government has placed the county in the highest level of Covid restrictions after the national lockdown ends on December 2.

The news came as a shock to Jackie McDougall, landlady at The Blue Bell Inn in Alnwick.

“I honestly thought we would be in Tier 2 so it’s a major blow,” she said.

Jackie McDougall and Phil Farmer

"I’ve said it a thousand times before – pubs are safe. Every pub in Alnwick goes above and beyond but we have been put in this situation by the problems across the wider region.

"I do understand the decision in a way because if we were Tier 2 we’d get swamped by people from Newcastle and elsewhere.

"I think it would have been much fairer if they had the same rules across the rest of the UK for the next two or three weeks. If levels are still rising, then it would prove that hospitality has nothing to do with it.

"I’ve gone through the full range of emotions, from feeling sick to angry and disappointed but there is a bigger picture here and there are lives at stake.

Jackie McDougall, landlady of the Blue Bell Inn, Alnwick.

"We’re going to miss Christmas and this will hit us hard but we can only hope there will be better times ahead.

"I am pleased for other businesses that will be able to reopen though. They’ve had it hard too and I hope they can make the most of it now.”

Other businesses have concerns about how to pay the bills until customers can return in larger numbers when the vaccine is rolled out.

Phil Farmer, owner of the Cook and Barker at Newton-on-the-Moor, said: “We’re disappointed we are in Tier 3 but it is what it is and we have to try and make the best of it.

Phil Farmer, right, owner of The Cook and Barker.

"I do feel businesses need more help, the furlough provides help to pay staff but the businesses need support so they will be able to re-open and provide jobs.

"The region as a whole have had limited support as compared to other regions and more government support is urgently needed.

"We are still paying national insurance, pension contributions for staff and the deferment of VAT is only to the early part of next year and there is virtually no income to be able to cover those bills.

“We will continue our takeaway service but like other restaurants we rely on trade in December to support ourselves in the quieter period of January and February. The announcements regarding the vaccine give us hope that things will improve in the coming months.”

Similar concerns were echoed by Mark Jones, owner of The Dirty Bottles in Alnwick, who is coming to terms with the loss of the profitable Christmas period.

"This is going to hurt a lot of hospitality businesses because the support is not there,” he said. “There are grants available but for a lot of places they will not cover the rent or mortgage.”

Kris Blackburn from The Running Fox, which has outlets in Felton, Shilbottle and Longframlington, said: "The announcement that Northumberland is to go back into Tier 3 is a huge blow.

"We were so looking forward to welcoming customers back into our cafes once again, especially at this festive time. December is such a key trading period in a normal year and was ever more so after such a challenging 2020.

"I really hope that the local community will support local businesses by shopping at local independents this Christmas."

She added: “We’ve had to adopt different approaches to business this year and are now offering through our website a Local Delivery service, as well as Click & Collect, so that our customers can continue to enjoy a Foxy treat or two. We will also be delivering certain products nationally.

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