A PUB landlord has spoken of the grave challenges being faced by the hospitality industry as he is ‘staring down the barrel of Christmas being cancelled’.

Dave Johnson, landlord of The Hole in the Wall pub in Darlington, expressed his concerns during an online meeting with Labour Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds.

Ms Dodds has been virtually meeting with many in the hospitality trade to hear how they are coping during these turbulent times.

Mr Johnson explained that he and his colleagues have had to make huge changes, such as bar staff becoming food delivery drivers, in order for the business to survive.

He said he hopes that Darlington could move into Tier 2 by Christmas, thus enabling venues to honour Christmas bookings.

But with the next Government announcement on Covid restrictions not expected until December 16, it gives them just days to order stock and prepare.

The Northern Echo:

Dave Johnson and  Labour Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds on their online call

He said: “I don’t think I have fully accepted it yet, but I am staring down the barrel of Christmas is cancelled, full-on Grinch, Christmas is cancelled.”

He added: “But I’m going to go down fighting, whatever the situation is."

Mr Johnson said he believed that customers that have made Christmas bookings will ‘have a little bit of faith’ and keep them, but if they had to be cancelled it would be 'a kick in the teeth' he hasn't quite accepted yet.

He told Ms Dodds that there hasn't been enough financial support for hospitality and he was frustrated that the industry is being blamed for the spread of Covid.

He said: "Hospitality have done a lot, I know publicans that have spent thousands on plastic screens, they have remodelled, built structures so that they can open.

"This gets said a lot, but we have done everything that we have been told to do to make sure that we can be Covid safe."

Mr Johnson said that statistics showed that Covid transmission rates in hospitality 'aren't particularly high' compared to other areas.

He added: "There has got to be a huge element of trust from Government that hospitality can manage its customer base and manage its premises to be Covid safe.

"Even if we can just get back to the rule of six of mixed households, I don't expect a free for all, that isn't going to happen and I don't think that would be wise.

"But just to get back to the point where we can open our doors and we can have mixed households sat round a relatively small table having a drink from midday through to midnight, having some food, a bag of crisps, whatever, a little bit of music on in the background.

"If we can get to that, I think that hospitality would be a much happier place."

Ms Dodds sympathised and told The Northern Echo that she understood the 'real sense of frustration' being felt, particularly in the North.

She said extra support for areas in tougher restrictions came 'very, very late' and has essentially been cancelled out because the additional support grant has now gone nationwide. "I really think Government needs to look at this again," she said. "They really need to be providing that adequate support."