‘It’s about a level playing field’

By Emily Hawkins contact

- Last updated on GMT

Stressful situation: licensees of pubs with higher rateable values are worried about the lack of grant availability
Stressful situation: licensees of pubs with higher rateable values are worried about the lack of grant availability

Related tags: Coronavirus

Operators have said being omitted from the Government’s grant system has left them with daunting questions about how they will be able to reopen their pubs.

Samantha Norris, operator at the White Lion in Crewe, Cheshire, has a rateable value of over £102,000, after a 200% increase at the last rates review.

Only pubs with a rateable value of up to £51,000 are eligible for a maximum Government of £25,000, with the sector’s trade bodies lobbying the Government to abolish this threshold or, otherwise, support pubs with a higher rateable value.

Norris says she feels there is a misconception about the help the pub sector has been offered, and that larger pubs have been neglected by support packages.

She says: “Yes, our industry is getting help, but it is so late. We still haven’t had a penny yet, we’re a good four to five weeks in, with wages to pay every week.” 

Not just me

She continued: “I’m sure it’s not just me. Up and down the land, licensees are very stressed, trying to find money until it comes through from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme to pay people.”

Like many other operators, Norris has had to furlough the majority of her staff, with 34 members of her team to receive 80% of their wages from the Government’s scheme.

She added: “It’s [about] a level playing field isn’t it? I feel like smaller pubs are getting these grants and they don’t have the overheads larger pubs have.”

The British Beer & Pub Association, UKHospitality, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), and the British Institute for Innkeeping (BII) wrote to the Chancellor, urging him to get rid of the threshold and link the grant payment to the rateable value.

For many operators, their ineligibility for the grant has made them even more frustrated with the rates system, especially because councils are not obligated to retrospectively pay the grant – even if its rate is later determined to be lower than £51,000. 

One pub in this situation is the White Hart, in Headington, Oxford, which has a rateable value of exactly £51,000, and has been protesting its rate with the Valuation Office Agency since October 2019.

Operator Dan Smaje told The Morning Advertiser​: “Everybody else – all the pubs around here – have got the grant. We missed out by a pound. It is frustrating to say the least. 

“We understand that there has to be a cut off somewhere but we are just on the cliff edge. It’s not gradual, it’s nothing.

“It is just heartbreaking to miss out on a non-repayable grant, which would have been a massive, massive help.” 

Graham Browett who operates the Five Lamps, in Derby, said his successful business came at the price of a 300% increase in its rateable value when it went from £18,5000 to £55,000.

Both Browett’s and Smjae’s sites are partially tied to Everards Brewery, which has been helping the sites to get a rates reduction and halted rents in the coronavirus crisis.

Browett said: “If we survive, it will be like starting the business afresh with little resources but at least a good reputation.” 

Exercise discretion 

British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Emma McClarkin said: “We urge all local authorities to exercise their discretion per recent Government guidance and provide grants to pubs who qualify but whose rateable value had not been agreed or corrected until after 11 March.

“An unnecessary delay should not result in the loss of critical financial help for businesses that are in desperate need of support.”

A Treasury spokesperson said: “The Chancellor has outlined an unprecedented package of measures to protect millions of people’s jobs and incomes as part of the national effort in response to coronavirus.

“That includes making grants to businesses worth more than £12bn to support firms, including pubs, of which more than £1.2bn has already been distributed to more than 96,000 small businesses.

“All eligible retail, hospitality and leisure properties, including pubs, will also pay no business rates in 2020-21. And in addition to that, the Government is providing cash grants to businesses to pay 80% of the cost of staff wages, up to a maximum of £2,500.”

Related topics: Property law

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