It being a general election year, we can expect a shamelessly political presentation that appeals to voters to stick with the “economic competence” of the Conservative Party and reject the “chaotic unfunded spending promises” of Labour.
You’ll decide who to believe and make your own choice on 7 May, but there may still be time to influence the Chancellor’s Budget and all the parties’ election manifestos with some well-targeted lobbying.
So – besides the absolute no-brainer of cuts in beer, cider, wine and spirits duty – what can pubs expect in terms of help and support in the coming weeks and months?
A sector that directly employs more than 550,000 people, nearly half of whom are under 25; that indirectly supports a further 210,000 jobs; that contributes £22bn to the UK economy; and that pays nearly £8bn in taxes (see p8), ought to be courted hard by those seeking votes.
So if your local MP or his or her rival candidates have not taken an interest in your pub yet, invite them to do so. Show them around your business, introduce them to your staff and customers, share with them the problems that are keeping you awake at night, and challenge them to help you.
All they’ll want in return is a photo opportunity of themselves behind the bar, pulling a pint, for use in the local paper. Industry representatives are campaigning for various things — a cut in VAT; meaningful reform of business rates; a rethink on late-night levies, early-morning restriction orders and cumulative-impact zones; better protection for pubs via the planning system; the adoption of an ‘agent of change’ principle in noise control; more help and support on the recruitment of apprentices… Pick your own priorities, and pledge your vote to the politician who can persuade you of their best intentions for your pub, its staff, and customers.
The combined weight of 48,000 individual licensees and their teams putting pressure on politicians could drive real positive change for our sector. On the eve of an election that is too close to call, with the very real possibility of four-way marginal seats returning to Parliament politicians with barely a quarter of the local vote, pub people will decide the outcome.
I know that, you know that, and so do the election candidates and their political parties. There is some super-sensitivity out there among MPs holding marginal seats, where 100 votes (less than the number of customers in your pub on a Friday night) could well make the difference — and they are out to impress.
It is now time to act — once the polling stations close in 12 weeks’ time it will be too late. Make your demands now!