Spotlight: the call for pubs to unite and fight

By Georgina Townshend contact

- Last updated on GMT

Speak up: Will the Autumn Budget include any respite for pubs?
Speak up: Will the Autumn Budget include any respite for pubs?
As the Autumn Budget approaches, the pub sector has plenty on its plate and must come together to try to battle the onerous taxes and other financial expenses on the horizon.

Only a few months ago industry insiders warned pubs to hunker down and prepare for the multifaceted storm​ of Brexit, business rates, inflation and changes in consumer demand.

Pub supporters in the form of activists, MPs and lobbying groups have been working hard to offer the trade much-needed help. Now, with only two days before the Autumn Budget on 22 November, the fight seems to have moved up a gear.

Last week, 50 MPs signed a joint letter​ to the Chancellor urging him to slash the “massive tax burdens” contributing to pub closures, days after a parliamentary debate where 24 MPs lobbied the Government​ on the same issue.

“The message is being heard by those in Government but we must, as a sector, not rest on our laurels and assume that support will come at the Autumn Budget.”

- Kate Nicholls, ALMR chief executive 

The Liberal Democrats have adopted a business rates ‘pub cap’ as party policy, and several campaigns have garnered MP and consumer support, including the Campaign For Real Ale’s (CAMRA) Keep Pubs Afloat and the British Beer & Pub Association’s (BBPA) Cut Beer Tax campaigns.

The question remains, however, whether the lobbying, protests and demands from the trade can break through and create real change for the industry. Or is it too little, too late?

BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds believes the Budget campaign has “really picked up steam” in recent weeks. She told The Morning Advertiser​: “The key message that beer and pubs are overtaxed has really been hitting home.”

In preparation for the Budget, the organisation created 200,000 beer mats, which it distributed to 2,000 pubs, highlighting the issue of beer duty and the huge 39% tax rise beer drinkers have endured over the past 10 years. The mats encouraged customers to write to their MPs and make their concerns about the issue known.

More support for the UK pub

Public lobbying of MPs – whether it be from beer mats or otherwise – seems to be working, with more parliamentarians beginning to stand up for the UK pub as we get closer to the Budget.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign by the BPPA and TaxPayers’ Alliance to cut beer tax last week, Nigel Evans MP called on Philip Hammond to follow George Osborne’s lead and reduce the duty on beer.

He said that with more than 900,000 people employed in pubs and brewing, the industry contributed significantly to the economy and a reduction in duty could help boost the tax received by the Treasury.

Mike Wood, MP for Dudley South and chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, spoke out in support of fairer tax treatment for the beer and pub industry in parliament at the end of October.

He highlighted how the Treasury should be “very grateful for the £13bn of taxes that it pays”.

“Pubs cannot continue to shoulder such a massive tax burden and ultimately it is the consumer that is affected when the price of a pint goes up. We need the Treasury to act now by delivering a Budget for Britain’s pubs”.

- Tim Page, CAMRA chief executive

Wood is just one of 50 MPs who wrote a joint letter to the Chancellor urging him to slash the massive tax burden that is contributing to pub closures across the UK.

The MPs called on Hammond to freeze beer duty for the rest of this parliament and introduce an annual £5,000 business rate relief for pubs as part of the Keep Pubs Afloat​ campaign.

“The beer duty escalator increased beer duty by a staggering 42% over six years,” added Wood. “During this time, the annual decline in sales of beer in pubs nearly doubled and 7,000 pubs called time for good, with over 58,000 beer-dependent jobs being lost.”

Commenting on support for pubs and what he hopes to see from the Budget, CAMRA’s chief executive Tim Page added: “Pubs cannot continue to shoulder such a massive tax burden and ultimately it is the consumer that is affected when the price of a pint goes up. We need the Treasury to act now by delivering a Budget for Britain’s pubs”.

Campaign goals

While beer duty has been a major issue for campaigners, other issues such as business rates and the recruitment crisis are also areas of serious concern.

At a meeting of the House of Commons last month, MP for Cambridge, Daniel Zeichner, asked how the Prime Minister​ planned to deal with a “chronic and acute sudden lack of labour” that has been a “blow to the great British pub”.

And, last month the leader of the Liberal Democrat party, Vince Cable, slammed the Government over its treatment of pubs​. He said: “In Government, Lib Dems fought to secure legislation to ensure protection of pubs from unfair behaviour by the big pubcos that supply their beer.

“It would be unforgivable if the same pubs are now forced out of business by the Government’s own incompetence.”

The Lib Dems have made it party policy to cap rates at 12.5%​. The party has also called for a fundamental review of the business rates system, which they hope to see in this month’s Budget.

Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) chief executive Kate Nicholls said that although the message is being heard by those in Government, the trade “cannot assume support will come”.

“The message that the ALMR received following the Spring Budget, was that crucial support was secured, in large part, due to effective lobbying of backbench MPs who, in turn, put pressure on ministers,” she explained.

“If the sector presents a clear and unified voice, we can continue to make progress on achieving enhanced rates support and a much-needed review of the whole system.

“MPs met a couple of weeks ago to debate the taxation of pubs and beer and we saw cross-party support on the issue.

“The message is being heard by those in Government but we must, as a sector, not rest on our laurels and assume that support will come at the Autumn Budget.”

Engagement packs

Along with organisations such as the BBPA and CAMRA, which have encouraged contact with their local representatives, the ALMR has been distributing an engagement pack to members, to help them write to their local MPs, the Chancellor and local press.

“If we make the case clearly and pragmatically that the eating and drinking-out sector is a significant and valuable resource and that, with the right backing, these businesses can achieve even more, then there is a good chance that our voices will be heard,” Nicholls added.                      

Related topics: Legislation

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