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The UK government is pressing councils across England to give pubs leeway to open early on Sunday to serve football fans gathering to watch the Lionesses’ clash against Spain in the Women’s World Cup final.
Levelling-up secretary Michael Gove wrote to leaders of England’s 318 local authorities on Thursday encouraging them to work with police forces to fast-track any applications by venues looking to extend opening hours on the day of the final, which kicks off at 11am local time.
The Home Office has also asked police chiefs to help ensure that as many venues as possible are allowed to host screenings, the government added.
The move by the government follows calls from the industry to loosen licensing laws on the day of the final to allow pubs to serve alcoholic beverages from an hour before the game. Most only have the right to serve alcohol from 11am onwards, according to the British Beer and Pub Association.
Emma McClarkin, BBPA chief executive, earlier on Thursday called for the government “to step in and allow the necessary regulatory easement” to loosen licensing rules. The Liberal Democrats had called for the government to score a “last-minute winner” for the sector and recall parliament to make temporary tweaks to the 2003 Licensing Act. Similar changes were made for the Euro 2020 men’s football final between England and Italy and for the late Queen’s platinum jubilee.
The levelling-up department acknowledged that most bars and pubs already had the right to show the game within usual opening hours. “I’ve asked councils to do everything they can to help pubs get open earlier on Sunday, so people can come together and enjoy a drink before kick-off for this special occasion,” Gove said.
The World Cup final clash will be the first time that an England team has featured in the last match of the sport’s global tournament since the men’s side claimed victory in 1966. The campaign by the Lionesses has garnered huge national interest, marking a leap forward for the women’s game, with 7mn viewers tuning in on Wednesday to watch England beat co-hosts Australia to reach the final.
Interest in the final could provide a £41mn boost to the hospitality sector, according to projections by trade body UK Hospitality. But it comes as the pub sector is being tested by the cost of living crisis and high inflation. Pub closures reached a decade-high in the first quarter, with 200 licensed venues entering insolvency, according to official data analysed by accountants Price Bailey.
Steven Alton, chief executive of the British Institute of Innkeeping, said the letter sent by Gove was “a very welcome, pragmatic move” but he added that for government to help pubs face up to “exceptional and escalating costs in all areas of their business” a sector-wide reduction of VAT or an extension of business rates relief would be needed.
Clive Watson, chief executive of City Pub Group, said the move represented a small boost to the sector. “It helps the hospitality trade . . . but I don’t think many people are going to be drinking loads of pints before 11am. It’s really about bringing people together.
“It’s been really positive to work with the government to ensure everyone can get a chance to join in the celebrations,” said Kate Nicholls, UK Hospitality chief executive. “I’d echo the government’s support for local authorities taking a pragmatic view to venues opening early to allow people to make the most of this momentous occasion.”