The Government made up to £617m available to councils at the start of last month to top up initial help for small businesses impacted by coronavirus. However, it was unclear to many publicans whether councils could use this to help pubs with rateable values of £51,000 or more, which were not eligible for the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grants Fund.
A document that clarified councils could choose to use this funding to help pubs if they wished was recently issued by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).
A question on the document – titled ‘Local Authority Discretionary Grant Fund – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for Local Authorities’ – asks: “Is there still an absolute rateable value limit of £51,000 for businesses receiving this fund?”
Discretion to choose
The guidance’s answer is: “This fund is primarily and predominantly directed to small and micro businesses. However, local authorities have discretion to determine who else is eligible to receive funding through their schemes.”
Another question states: “Should local suthorities target Hospitality and Leisure businesses rated above £51,000 as they will remain closed longest?”
The document said: “It is for local authorities to determine which sectors they wish to prioritise and how best to support their local economies.”
Although there is leeway for councils to grant funding to pubs that missed out on the hospitality grant, the clarity comes too late for many, with many councils having already closed applications for this funding.
Many councils have told publicans they will not consider their business for this funding pot and would focus on the businesses the Government has highlighted as those to prioritise, such as those in shared spaces, regular market traders and small charity properties.
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, encouraged councils to help pubs but reiterated calls for further central Government support for pubs struggling to afloat.
She said: “We strongly support Local Authorities using their discretion to support both pubs with rateable values of £51K and above and brewers that have been excluded from Government funding schemes so far.
“We continue to press the Government to support these pubs and brewers as they have unfairly been excluded from funding support to date.
“Whilst we are pleased to see this clarification from BEIS, it will be too late for many pubs and brewers as some Local Authorities have already closed their application process for this discretionary fund.”
Publican Helen Wood told The Morning Advertiser last month of her confusion and frustration at attempting to see if her local authority would consider her pub the Broad Leys in Aylesbury for this funding.
She said of the grant: “We have looked through the criteria of that and it's small micro businesses, places that share offices. We don't fall into that category. So it's almost like - while they are ignoring us, we are failing and we may fail completely. It's better to shout a bit now.”
The threshold on the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund has meant almost 10,000 pubs have been left without grant funding, according to the Altus Group.
Trade bodies including UKHospitality (UKH), the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), and the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII) have urged the Government to increase the support available for these sites.
The Raise The Bar campaign has lobbied the Government to raise the rateable value to £150,000.