£80m Diageo virus support fund to help major hospitality centres including Edinburgh

Drinks giant Diageo, Scotland’s largest whisky producer, has launched an £80 million recovery fund to help pubs and bars entice customers back as lockdown measures are eased.

Diageo has a vast portfolio that includes Johnnie Walker whisky, above, Guinness stout and Smirnoff vodka.

The group, whose vast portfolio includes Johnnie Walker whisky, Guinness stout and Smirnoff vodka, said its global support programme – dubbed “Raising the Bar” – would be available from July.

It will provide the funding to support the recovery of major hospitality centres, including: Edinburgh and London in the UK, Dublin, New York, Shanghai and Sydney. The overall $100m (£80m) programme includes a $20m community fund announced in the US on 12 June. Some £4m of the funding is earmarked for Scotland.

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Diageo said its programme had been devised following a global survey of bar owners to identify what they need to reopen post-lockdown.

The initiative will provide targeted support to help pay for the physical equipment needed for outlets to re-open. In the UK, for example, the group will provide initial funding for hygiene kits, help to pubs and bars to establish partnerships with online reservations and cashless systems, mobile bars and outdoor equipment.

Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes said: “Pubs and bars sit at the heart of every community. We have launched ‘Raising the Bar’ as so many outlets have been impacted by this crisis and badly need help to open their doors again.

“We are calling on governments around the world to provide long-term recovery packages to help the hospitality sector.

“These businesses play an essential role in bringing people together to socialise and celebrate – something that we have all missed so much during this terrible crisis – and sustain hundreds of millions of jobs, which provide a first foot on the employment ladder for young people.”

Emma McClarkin, CEO of the Scottish Beer & Pub Association, said: “This announcement from Diageo will be enthusiastically welcomed by operators who are desperate to re-open their pubs, get trading again, welcome customers back and play their part in the economic recover.

“The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit as a result of the pandemic, with pubs and bars now closed for over three months and its impact likely to be felt by the trade for a long time into the future. With over 50,000 jobs dependent on pubs and bars, we are an integral part of the national economy and communities across the country – it is vital we get up and running again soon, and this initiative will help support that.”

Colin Wilkinson, managing director of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, added: “The announcement of Diageo’s ‘Raising the Bar’ fund, to support Scotland’s pubs and bars to begin not just reopening, but rebuilding their businesses, is very much welcomed by the SLTA and its members.”

The announcement comes as the UK government eases the two-metre distancing rule in England, replacing it with a “one-metre plus” measure, with the protection offered by the physical distance enhanced by other mitigation measures such as the use of face coverings, increased hygiene or layout changes in premises.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said: “The new ‘one-metre plus’ approach should help many to get back to business in a way that means they can turn a profit, particularly across the leisure and hospitality industries.

“But it will mean new costs for small firms as they invest in screens, face coverings, hand sanitiser and other protective measures. The government should come forward with back to work vouchers to help businesses recover these costs.”

In April, Diageo warned that the speed of the global shutdown as governments attempted to limit the spread of Covid-19 was hitting the business even harder than before. Bosses also put on hold a share buyback scheme.

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