It’s at this time of year we should all be thankful to the thousands of brilliant publicans and bar staff that make Christmas what it is, because the yuletide period is one of the busiest in the year for publicans and rightly so. The specialty beers come out and more than a few turkey dinners are tucked into before the New Year makes for another very busy night.
Over the past year we’ve showed our commitment to supporting our local pubs, through our new Pub Loan Fund, where local people can take over the running of their pub with the help of loans to cover things like legal fees or redecorating.
Meanwhile our Pub is The Hub initiative is helping rural pubs provide often isolated communities with innovative and exciting new services and facilities. Places like the Star Inn at Vogue near Redruth which runs a range of village services from a micro-library to a hairdressers as I discovered on a recent trip to Cornwall.
It’s also been great to see the work that CAMRA has done this year to help communities demonstrate that they love their locals and recognise the value that their pubs holds for them. So far more than 900 pubs are now listed as Assets of Community Value (ACVs). Once a pub is listed by the local authority, the community has a fair chance to keep the amber nectar flowing, by having time to raise the necessary funds to bid to buy and run their pub should it be put up for sale.
What’s more, earlier this year we brought in more protections for pubs through the planning system so there is now a democratic process involved before a change of use or demolition occurs. I’m also pleased to hear that most licensees think that being listed building benefits their business.
Earlier this year a CAMRA survey of ACV-listed pubs found that more than 85% of respondents said it had benefitted their business - the same percentage also said their customers valued the pub being listed. Now it was only 101 pubs out of the 900 but this kind of feedback is so important because, as with any government policy, we are committed to ensuring that this one works as well in practice as it does in theory.
That’s why over the past few months – including on occasion as guests of this publication – we have been informally speaking to key organisations which have an interest in the Community Right to Bid. These discussions are helping to shape our views going forward and I’m keen that we continue to keep the door open to all voices.
One of the great aspects of listing pubs as ACVs and using other Community Rights is the fact that they are a genuine way to put power back in the hands of local people. Furthermore, our new plan to allow councils to keep 100% of local taxes by the end of this parliament includes all £26 billion that is generated from Business Rates.
Councils will shortly be able to cut business rates across the board and this will complement the local discount powers that we have already given them to provide targeted support which is used to help boost local shops, pubs and restaurants and help their local area thrive. Where councils use their local discount powers we automatically fund 50% of the costs. We are still very much in the early stages of this historic arrangement and lots of detail needs to be thrashed out over the coming months. That being said, this could be a game changer for many pubs across the country.
The Chancellor also confirmed at the Autumn Statement that the doubling of Small Business Rate Relief will continue for a further year. That’s on top of the fact that already businesses across the country are benefitting from record levels of discounts from their rates bills. In fact, many small businesses, including many pubs and bars, pay no rates at all.
Our latest figures show that in the last year, councils have paid out over £3 billion in business rate discounts and reliefs for local companies – a £221 million increase on the previous year. This means the total amount of business rates actually paid by businesses has gone up by less than 1% in the last year – less than half the rate of inflation.
And as our long term economic plan helps Britain out of the longest recession since the 1930’s it will also mean more money in pub-goers pockets this Christmas and further good news for landlords across the country. I hope that this festive period is a happy one to all of you and as a former pub manager I know how hard you’ll be working.
As the Pubs Minister I’ll be raising a glass to all of you that make the Great British Pub what it is this Christmas and I look forward to getting back in the New Year to see what more we can do to help you prosper.