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Lib Dems lead cross party push to keep pubs in Rugby in business

May 19, 2020 4:46 PM
By Rugby Lib Dems

Tory Misrule A - derelict shops in the heart of RugbyThe Liberal Democrats are at the forefront of a cross party call to protect pubs in Rugby in the face of the "unique combination of challenges" created by the Covid-19 crisis.

Liberal Democrat MP Daisy Cooper, alongside MPs from the Tory, Labour, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Green parties, are calling for Ministers to ensure pubs - a "cornerstone of British culture" - are in a position to reopen once social distancing measures are eased.

The group have written to the Chancellor to demand bespoke support for the industry including calls to:

  • Scrap the £51,000 Rateable Value cap for pubs, allowing pubs to access the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund.
  • Stop pubco landlords from charging rent to their tenants through the crisis.
  • Extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for the hospitality sector for the duration of social distancing measures and adopt a tailored approach to taper down the scheme in line with the ability of pubs to re-open on a viable basis.

Daisy Cooper, Liberal Democrat MP for St Albans, said:

"Pubs are an iconic part of our social and economic fabric. They are the hub of many communities and play a key role in the wider economy, employing nearly half a million people directly and supporting so many other jobs - not least in brewing and entertainment.

"Right now, many pubs are saddled with enormous rents, payable despite the fact that their doors are closed. On top of this, many are unable to access Government grants because they're based on the broken business rates system. They are on a financial precipice.

"The Chancellor must take radical action to prevent beloved pubs from permanently closing their doors. He must scrap the unfair rates cap that prevents so many pubs from accessing vital funds, and prevent pubco landlords from charging exorbitant rates to their tenants whilst they are unable to open their premises.

"Longer term, we are calling for wholesale reform of the broken business rates system, which has been exposed as completely unfit for purpose.

"Ministers must act urgently to support UK pubs through the COVID crisis, or risk leaving a gaping hole in communities across the UK and the loss of a wonderful part of our heritage."

Tom Stainer, Chief Executive at CAMRA said:

"We welcome this letter, which highlights vital issues facing pubs during the Covid-19 lockdown. It has been estimated that up 19,000 pubs are now at risk of permanent closure as a result of the Covid-19 crisis, which also means that jobs are on the line, and consumers stand to lose out on the social and wellbeing benefits of pub going.

"Up to 20% of pubs may not be eligible for grant support due to their high rateable value - but that doesn't mean they are better able than smaller pubs to weather this storm, so it's imperative that the grant scheme is extended to offer them support.

"CAMRA has also called for pub companies to cancel rent for tenants and is seeking assurances that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme will be available to pubs and brewers until the end of social distancing measures. We're delighted to see MPs doing the same and applaud their efforts - hopefully, the Government will listen."

The full text of the cross party letter is below.

Dear Chancellor

We are writing to you to highlight the plight of the UK pub industry, which has been particularly hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. Pubs directly employ 457,000 people across the country, in addition to supporting the jobs and income of their many suppliers, brewers and entertainers.

Pubs face a unique combination of challenges: they are the least likely to be able to offer their products for delivery or online, they are highly dependent on property, and any continuation of social distancing measures are likely to make it difficult or impossible in many cases to re-open or operate on a scale that breaks even. Pubs have also been identified by the government as being amongst the last businesses that will be allowed to re-open.

Five of the six biggest pubco landlords are still charging commercial rent to their tenant publicans: Star Pubs and Bars (Heineken), Punch Taverns, Greene King, Marston's, EI Group (Stonegate Pubs), even though they cannot trade. Unlike in a normal commercial lease, these tenants must often operate their businesses in the style dictated by their landlord. We fully support the #NoPubNoRent campaign endorsed by CAMRA and the British Pub Confederation.

Additionally, many pubs have a rateable value greater than the £51,000 cap applied to the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund eligibility; despite being small businesses they are ineligible for support. The broken business rates system and flawed valuations, that have penalised pubs for years, are now preventing them from accessing help when they need it most.

With pubs to be among the last businesses to open, and furthermore amongst the hardest hit by any social distancing measures, we are calling on you to take the following urgent action to protect British pubs and jobs:

  • Scrap the arbitrary £51,000 Rateable Value cap for pubs so that they can access the Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund
  • Extend the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme for the hospitality sector for the duration of social distancing measures and adopt a tailored approach for pubs so that the scheme can be tapered down in line with the ability of groups or types of pubs to re-open on a viable basis
  • Stop the pubco landlords from charging rent to their tenants - if pubs are not allowed to operate, they should not have to pay rent.

Not only major employers, pubs are a cornerstone of British life and culture, and need urgent tailored support to survive this crisis.

Yours sincerely

Daisy Cooper MP