If we’re honest, hopes were not sky high that the Chancellor would provide much support for pubs at the Budget. There was a suspicion that, with Brexit still causing headaches, support on business rates would be kicked into the long grass and duties would be raised. Yet, this Budget has been relatively positive. So much so, that many are describing it as a ‘pre-election’ Budget.
Much detail is still to emerge but it looks as though the Treasury has understood the importance of pubs and sought to provide support. This support will only have the impact we want if it is followed next year, the year after and into the future, by continual support to boost investment in the sector.
The issue of business rates has not gone away, with the Government having still not delivered on its manifesto promise to reform the entire system. It was designed in a pre-digital age, is unfit for modern-day business and unfairly penalises pubs.
UKHospitality, along with its predecessor bodies the ALMR and BHA, have pushed for reform and will continue to do so. The Treasury has listened to some of our demands and, although we are yet to see full reform, we have managed to secure a couple of key wins. Firstly, a business rates cut of one third for pubs with a rateable value under £51,000, that will benefit small businesses that may feel cost increases more acutely. Secondly, the introduction of a tax on digital businesses that takes into account the changing nature of UK businesses.
The next step is to convince the Government to use funds raised to offset unfair costs hitting the pub sector. Duty for beer, cider and spirits have been frozen, which should provide some breathing room for pubs and customers. The Government has been receptive to calls to avoid increases to duty rates following years in rises and their acknowledgement of the unique role of the pub is promising.
We have also managed, for the moment at any rate, to avoid a ‘latte levy’ that would have hit many pubs increasingly moving into takeaway coffee. Pubs have thrown their weight behind a sector-wide campaign to reduce plastic waste and it is great to see their efforts recognised. An additional tax might not have had the intended effect of reducing waste further, but would have increased costs.
The Government has also unveiled steps to reduce the cost of apprenticeships for SMEs, which will go some way to addressing the issue of recruitment and retention pubs face. This could be pivotal if a no-deal Brexit restricts the sector’s ability to employ overseas’ staff.
The Budget has provided us with some promising, tantalising support and signs that the Government, perhaps, understands the importance of pubs. The hard work now will be ensuring they follow up with continued action to support the UK’s pubs.