Can Long Live the Local help pubs facing a rise in beer duty?

By Claire Churchard

- Last updated on GMT

Community facing: Sean McArdle and Sara Barton have diversified the pub's offer
Community facing: Sean McArdle and Sara Barton have diversified the pub's offer
Diversification and clever pub management can keep a pub in the black, but concerns that a beer duty rise is on the horizon has caused concerns for pubs already under pressure

Long Live the Local campaign in numbers

71,000+ petition signatures, so far

10,000 average number of signatures added to the petition each week

100,000signatures expected by Budget day

259,575visits to the campaign website

28,782emails sent to MPs via the website

45 average number of emails each MP has received, with some receiving more than 65 to date

650 bottles of No.11 ‘Philsner’ (in recognition of Chancellor Philip Hammond) to be given to MPs to raise awareness

For more information on how to get involved and to request a campaign pack visit www.longlivethelocal.pub​ 

There are many Marquis of Granby pubs around the country but the one in the historic village of Granby, in Nottinghamshire, is different.

Set in the Vale of Belvoir, the 18th century pub owned and run by Sara Barton and Sean McArdle, can lay claim to being the first of its name. Its credentials seem assured as the family pile of John Manners, aka the famous Marquis of Granby, is just down the road at Belvoir Castle.

In common with its numerous namesakes, Granby village’s last remaining pub is facing challenges that will be familiar to many establishments – rising cost pressures. 

Barton says she is concerned about VAT and business rates. But, for her, the big worry is the potential for beer duty rises to be linked to the retail price index in the 2018 Budget and the impact it will have on the price of a pint.

She says: “People have got a certain budget and we find that when they come in they’ll have a session and they’ll stay here. But whereas they might have come out three or four times a week [a few years ago], they’re coming out once or twice now.”

The couple also run Brewster’s Brewery in nearby Grantham, where Barton is head brewer, and which supplies beer to the Marquis of Granby at a subsidised rate. “We’ve tried to keep our prices below £3 a pint for our own beers. But even that’s been a bit of a pinch and we’re supplying direct from the brewery to the pub,” she says.

Commenting on the ongoing pressure to raise pint prices, McArdle adds: “We would be very concerned about putting the price up. One of the challenges is that beer duty has a multiplier effect as you move from the brewery to the pub, but people have only got so much money in their pockets.”

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Stopped food offer

The pub has already changed its offer to stabilise its gross profits. About four years ago it stopped doing food as the cost and effort was not providing a good enough return. It has also cut its opening hours to reflect costs and demand. 

Then, about 18 months ago, the owners even considered selling the village pub after running it for more than a decade.

McArdle says: “We went through ‘should we sell it?’ discussions. The local council made it an asset of community value (ACV) because there had already been one pub in the village close down.”

After a lot of deliberation, McArdle says they decided to keep it and carry on with a little bit more diversification. Barton adds: “Part of it is a business decision but part of it was that the pub is part of the community.”

It is now a “stripped-back, wet-led pub” and gross profit has stabilised at about 55%. But if beer duty goes up, Barton says they will have to look at putting prices up, which could undermine their efforts and discourage existing pub customers already being courted by supermarkets operating on much tighter margins. 

Community hub

Of course, supermarket-bought beverages don’t offer the on-the-spot opportunity to sit and enjoy them in convivial surroundings. And the Marquis of Granby is certainly welcoming. 

Barton describes it as very much a local community pub. “It tends to be a place where people come to meet and make friends. It’s not one of those pubs where you come in and heads swivel. People like to engage you in conversation, and they’ll find out everything about you,” she smiles.

As well as locals popping in for a pint and a catch-up, the site hosts people coming from game shoots, the village’s own cheese society and weddings, birthdays and wakes. 

However, changes in drinking habits have made it tougher for pubs to attract customers. 

She adds: “What we’re also finding is that younger people don’t just come out for a drink anymore. Older people would say, ‘oh let’s go down the pub’ but younger people want an event or something like that.”

The Marquis, however, is not taking it lying down.

Bar staff are local and enthusiastic about the pub. They started with the idea of a quiz night to attract people, and now, Barton says, they’re planning a cocktail night. Barton is also considering opening a village shop in the pub selling essentials like milk and bread as well as off-trade products from the brewery.

Further support has come in the form of the recently launched Long Live the Local campaign, which Barton and McArdle back wholeheartedly.

“The campaign will help mitigate the challenges we’re facing by raising awareness, because sometimes politicians are in their own little bubble. They need to know what’s happening out in the rural pubs and little towns,” says Barton.

The pub has put the campaign on its Facebook page and its customers have told them they’ve written to their MP urging them not to increase beer duty. 

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71,000-signature petition

David Cunningham, programme director for Long Live the Local, says: “We have received more than 71,000 signatures on our petition and over 28,000 people have written to their MP to express their concerns over a beer duty rise and the devastating effect it would have on local pubs.” 

He says this support has already prompted MPs to write to the Treasury to ask what steps the Chancellor plans on taking to help local pubs.

Campaigners expect to have as many as 100,000 signatures when they deliver the petition to the Prime Minister at Number 10 Downing Street with celebrity supporter and pub owner Jodie Kidd.

Cunningham says the campaign is also engaging directly with politicians to ensure they understand the social and economic importance of pubs and the conviction communities up and down the country have to keep to keep their local pub’s doors open. 

Barton says: “There’s a great network of people and social strata that you wouldn’t find if you went round to someone’s house for a dinner party. But, in the pub, everybody is on the same level.”

McArdle adds: “There’s such great banter and fun in here with a great mix of people. You do see the community that comes in and you think ‘where will people go if the pub closes?’ It would be an utter tragedy to see that lost.”              

Related topics: Property law

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