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Coronavirus Kent: Shepherd Neame boss Jonathan Neame welcomes Rishi Sunak wages pledge

The boss of one of Kent's biggest firms says the government's pledge to pay employee's wages is a "welcome intervention".

Shepherd Neame chief executive Jonathan Neame - whose brewery has more than 200 pubs across the county - says the package outlined by chancellor Rishi Sunak is "more comprehensive than we anticipated".

Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame
Jonathan Neame, chief executive of Shepherd Neame

But he warns the industry could struggle to emerge from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic if it continued through to the summer.

He was speaking after Boris Johnson yesterday ordered all pubs, restaurants and hotels to shut for a month.

"The closure has come earlier than expected," he said.

"Having said that, the package of measures needs a bit of digesting - it's more comprehensive than we anticipated.

"I think it is a welcome intervention that should enable a substantial relief for many people, but we do need more detail on certain things.

"I'm giving it a cautious welcome. We want to play our part in stopping this wretched thing."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak Picture: Matt Dunham/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with Chancellor Rishi Sunak Picture: Matt Dunham/PA Wire

As part of measures to protect people's jobs, the government will pay 80% of wages for employees not working.

Mr Neame says it means there is a safety net in place, but he admits it is going to hit pubs hard.

"If this goes on for a prolonged period then it will be terminal for many outlets," he said.

"They can't survive for that long and if this goes on until the summer, which is their busiest trading period, it will be very difficult.

"If this is a sustained outbreak and social distancing is in place for a long period of time then it's hard to see how we will not lose part of the fabric of British culture.

"We are doing our level best, but these are unchartered waters and profoundly difficult for my team and those running businesses.

"We have brilliant pubs and brilliant people who work there and the level of stress and anxiety out there is very deep.

"Nobody could envisage this happening."

"There's this wonderful sense of community involvement of people working together because they want their pub to survive..."

But he admits "brilliant landlords and their brilliant teams" are doing what they can to adapt to not only survive the coronavirus crisis, but to make sure they continue to play a big part in the communities they serve.

"In many villages in Kent, pubs have always been good at adapting their business models to suit the community," he said.

"At the Three Mariners in Oare, they have set up a village WhatsApp group which is looking out for vulnerable people and those who are self isolating, saying if they can provide meals or help with chores they can.

"There's this wonderful sense of community involvement of people working together because they want their pub to survive."

That community spirit is extended by Shepherd Neame itself, which has said it will offer its hotels to the NHS for accommodation and donate all food at closed establishments to local food banks and the homeless.

It will also do its utmost to protect its own landlords.

The Three Mariners in Oare
The Three Mariners in Oare

On Friday, Mr Neame announced a raft of measures the brewery, which has 320 pubs in total across the south east, is putting in place to try to weather the storm and protect employees, licensees and the company.

These include directors taking a 20% pay cut, suspending rent receipts from licensees, cancelling the shareholder dividend, ceasing all non-contractual capital expenditure and minimising all expenditure to the lowest level possible.

The brewery is continuing to produce beer under new and strict access and hygiene controls, including deep cleans between shifts, workplace distancing measures and monitoring the temperature of employees at the beginning and end of each shift.

Mr Neame added: "We have the best pubs in the country and nobody wants to see them close."

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