Community pubs plea for recognition in election

By Emily Hawkins

- Last updated on GMT

Cut the red tape: groups want politicians to look into making the process of buying a community pub easier
Cut the red tape: groups want politicians to look into making the process of buying a community pub easier

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Many community pubs act as a lifeline for residents of rural areas with little else around them. Ahead of the general election on 12 December, The Morning Advertiser asked the volunteers and publicans behind the bar at these sites what they would say to policymakers.

Anyone running a pub will be familiar with difficulties such as business rates, the lure of customers enjoying nights at home and beer duty, but there are some unique challenges when it comes to running or buying pubs under community ownership.

The Plunkett Foundation revealed that no community pubs had ceased trading since its records began, though some had since been transferred into private ownership.

In its A Better Form of Business​ report, operators told the foundation sustaining or improving profitability was their biggest concern for the upcoming 12 months.

Publicans running community sites said they wanted politicians to acknowledge the time-consuming and draining nature of both bidding to buy and running the sites on a volunteer basis.

Tax relief 

Paul Jennings, the chair of the action group trying to buy the Fox pub in the village of Loxley, Warwickshire, said he would like to see tax relief processes made easier.

There are currently a few schemes that can be applied to for money to invest in local pubs, including the Seed Enterprise Investment Scheme (SEIS), social investment tax relief (SITR) and the Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS).

Jennings said: “I would love to see them simplified and made a lot easier for us to apply for those tax reliefs, which would give people an additional encouragement to make those investments.”

The schemes involved detailed application forms and Jennings said it takes a lot of work to work out which scheme is best apply for and “to really get an understanding as non-experts”.

The village needs to raise £250,000 in shares in addition to paying a sum of £52,000 in VAT on the purchase, which will be claimed back through trading.

Jennings explained: “We have got to find the money initially and we know we will get it back but we have difficulties in trying to borrow that money either form organisations or individuals.”

He said a credit system would be preferable.

The steering group behind the campaign to save the Fox at Loxley
The steering group behind the campaign to save the Fox at Loxley

He added: “To not have a pub in our village would be to rip the heart out of the community.”

Clare Edwards is another individual trying to buy her local, the the White House in Blandon, Oxfordshire.

She told The Morning Advertiser​ she would like to see better and more accessible grants from local and central Government.

She said: “Just getting to the stage we are at now has incurred considerable costs and we have found very few grants that are available to support these sorts of community ventures.”

Local economies 

She wanted to see politicians recognise the contribution community pubs can make to local economics and the welfare of residents in rural areas.

Edwards added: “This is especially true in our case as we are placed on the edge of the Cotswolds in the village where Winston Churchill is buried. 

“A successful and thriving community pub will help to pull tourists into our area thus boosting local spending.

“Despite the beautiful area we live in, lack of transport, shops and a hub to a community results in vulnerable groups feeling very isolated.

“Without a hub to a community, rural social networks become non-existent, increasing social isolation and loneliness.”

Frances Brace, one of the campaigners who fought to save the Duke of Marlborough pub in Suffolk, said she would like politicians to acknowledge how hard it was for community pub volunteers.

Volunteers at the pub work behind the bar, in the garden, at beer festivals and with events.

Brace added: “They're just fantastic and that does make it an amazing community and something that really has helped transform the village.

“But to get to that point, it took a committee of about 10 people working huge amounts of time – basically weeks and weeks of our life in a year.

“The amount of work it took is just endlessly complicated and there are so many rings to go through.”

Lifeblood investments

British Beer & Pub Association policy director Andy Tighe said: “Given that seven in 10 alcoholic drinks sold in a pub are beer, the most direct way of keeping pubs viable remains a cut in beer duty.

“Beer is still overtaxed and the next Government needs to take action to address the issue. Equally, pubs are suffering under the burden of business rates, which leads to them paying more than five times their fair share.

“Investment is the lifeblood of community pubs, so we’d welcome prospective Governments offering funding and support for organisations such as the Plunkett Foundation and Pub is the Hub, whom we both work with and do so much for community pubs.

“It is important though that measures to bolster the rights of individual communities to purchase pubs do not act as a disincentive to investment or to operate a pub business.”

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