‘Oldest English pub’ reduces hours after business rates burden

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Hours reduced: high business rates forces Ye Olde Fighting Cocks to scale down its days of operation (image: user Legis, Wikimedia)
Hours reduced: high business rates forces Ye Olde Fighting Cocks to scale down its days of operation (image: user Legis, Wikimedia)

Related tags: St albans

One of the oldest pubs in England has had to reduce its hours to keep the business alive after years of struggling with the cost of business rates.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which has been described as one of the oldest pubs in England, will not open on Mondays and Tuesdays until the beginning of March at the earliest. 

The St Albans pub is one of many properties in the high-value area that has experienced a hike in their rateable value, leading to the formation of campaign group Save St Albans Pubs. 

Operator Christo Tofalli told The Morning Advertiser​ his main priority was keeping the pub – reputed to be the oldest in England according to the Guinness World Records 2016​ – open through the difficult winter trading period.

Disaster management 

The publican, who is also vice-chair of Save St Albans Pubs, said: “It was a no-brainer. We have tried a lot of different things but we don't want to lower the standards.

“We just have to bite the bullet, the number one thing is to stay open and in business.” 

Tofalli added: “We're a successful pub, we take a lot of money. It's just all the profits have been drained from us. The business rates are totally out of kilter. It's a tough call.

“This is financial disaster management, basically. When the best option is to close then obviously you have got serious issues.

“It is a very real situation. To us, this is nothing new. We deal with this on a daily basis and so do many other independent pubs.”

In a status announcing the change on the pub’s Facebook page,​ Tofali said he was sorry for a “knock-on effect” the reduction of hours would have on the local economy.

He wrote: “All of which will have a knock-on effect. Paying less wages and cutting back purchases of food and drink from local producers, less wages going to the local economy and less VAT, employment tax and beer tax getting paid to the Government.”

Many of the pub’s regular customers shared their sadness at the news on the pub’s Facebook page, with one commenting “It’s horrible to see this news, but understandable. Keep up the fight!”. Another called the announcement “devastating”. 

Unfairly penalised

Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) South Hertfordshire branch chairman Les Middlewood said further business rates relief for pubs would not alleviate the pressure on St Albans sites like Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which do not qualify for relief because their rateable value is too high. 

The Government said it would increase standard retailer discounts from 33% to 50%​ for all pubs with a rateable value of £51,000 or less from April.

Middlewood explained: “Despite the Government announcing more business rates relief for pubs, this has only given a bigger discount to pubs already receiving rate relief, rather than bringing any more pubs into business rates relief.

“Many of St Albans’ pubs are still unfairly penalised and we ask the Government to immediately take steps to correct this continuing injustice and give all of our pubs the backing they deserve.”

A Treasury inquiry into the impact of business rates last year recommended alternatives to the rates system​ be proposed in time for the 2020 spring statement because it is currently “broken”.

Related topics: Property law

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