News & Views

MPs ask for more support for pubs and breweries

As much as the reopening of pubs is more than welcome, it will not bring an immediate solution to the financial problems being experienced by pubs and breweries. There was a debate in Parliament on 24 March, secured by Selaine Saxby, the MP for North Devon, on the subject of tax changes to help pubs. Ms Saxby said in her opening remarks that she supported CAMRA’s campaign for a special rate of duty for draught beer, saying, “a draught beer duty would be targeted, quickly actioned support, and could play a crucial role in stopping so many of our vibrant pubs and other hospitality businesses from going under.” Charlotte Nichols MP, who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Pubs Group, added that the loss of trade for brewers due to closed pubs, “represents ten years of lost growth for the sector”, and called for more compensation and support to help them recover.

Selaine Saxby MP

Speaking the day after the debate, CAMRA’s National Chairman, Nik Antona, commented, “We were thrilled to see so many MPs from all parties and across the nations of the UK take part in the debate last night, displaying just how important pubs, clubs and breweries are within the hospitality industry and wider communities. They not only boost local economies and create jobs, but are also a key part of our social fabric, tackling loneliness and social isolation. It is clear that there is support across parties for further support to help pubs, clubs and brewers recover from the effects of this crisis, and that there is strong support for a preferential rate of duty for draught beer. Further support for our brewers is a must; they have been denied a dedicated support package so far, and we were pleased that several MPs called on the Government to reverse plans to change Small Brewers Relief, which would cause small businesses to pay more tax. This would be a devastating blow, at what is already a time of great financial uncertainty, and we thank the MPs who raised this. Some provisions were made to help the industry during the Chancellor’s Budget earlier this month, including the 5% VAT rate being extended until September, and we would like to see this extended further; pubs have not benefitted thus far from the 5% rate due to closures, and will not have long to benefit once restrictions lift. The VAT cut must also include alcohol, in order to help wet-led pubs and social clubs. Thank you to all the MPs who took part in the debate. The industry needs more support to ensure it can not only survive, but thrive once restrictions are lifted. The impact of the pandemic on pubs, clubs, and the brewers and cider makers that supply them, will continue to be felt long beyond reopening, and it is vital that this is reflected in the steps taken by Government.”

Pulling the plug

There have been a number of instances recently where electricity supply companies have refused to renew contracts with pubs or have imposed very high ‘out of contract’ rates. This also covered sites that included domestic accommodation for publicans and their families. The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) raised the matter with the regulator, Ofgem. The BBPA’s chief executive, Emma McClarkin, said, “Publicans have already suffered enough through this pandemic. The last thing they need is energy companies refusing to supply them or renew contracts. The regulations are clear that energy suppliers are obliged to provide domestic energy to a pub when it is lived in. Considering so many families live in pubs, Ofgem must really do the right thing and ensure these unfair behaviour is ended. It’s time for energy companies to show support for the sector through fair dealing.” It isn’t clear quite why the energy companies concerned are acting in this way but presumably, because of the Lockdown closures, they see pubs as a bad risk. There may also have been problems over unpaid bills, although the various grants paid by the Government were intended to cover costs such as this, although this was along with many other costs.

UBER case raises questions

Readers may recall that Uber, the taxi ‘app’ company, recently lost a case in the Supreme Court over their designation of their drivers as self-employed, when, in fact, their terms and conditions made them direct employees. There was an interesting article in the Morning Advertiser recently which suggested that this situation might also occur in the pub trade. Many pub owning businesses (POBs) engage pub managers on the basis that they are not on the company payroll but simply keep a share of the pub’s takings, usually between 15% and 30%, from which they also have to pay any staff. This means that the POB is not liable for holiday pay, sick pay or for pension or Employer’s National Insurance contributions. I have some experience of these matters and my recollection is that those who are self-employed are expected to be available to work for a number of different clients, not exclusively one company. I’m not in any way suggesting that POBs are breaking the law but the rules governing self-employed status (HM Revenue & Customs IR35 regulations) are complicated and are capable of different interpretations.

Missing the bus

A number of rural pubs operate courtesy buses for their customers. This seems sensible, given that public transport is often non-existent and no one wishes to encourage drinking and driving. As it was a free service and so long as there were no more than eight passengers, it has always been assumed that the facility did not require a PSV Operator’s Licence under the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981. Unfortunately, following an appeal court decision relating to hotel courtesy buses in London, this is not so. It was decided that the exemption for buses provided ‘without hire or reward’ does not apply because these particular buses are provided by an organisation which aims to make a profit from them. Lobbying continues on the subject.

Sad loss

 In their blog on 12 March, Gadds Brewery announced some sad news. Being based in East Kent, they have used East Kent Golding (EKG) hops since their early days in a number of their beers. EKGs are ideal hops for English pale ales and have Protected Geographic Indicator (PGI) status. To be precise, this applies to Golding hops grown south of the A249, and east of the M20. Gadds have always sourced their EKGs from the nearest hop garden to the brewery, Great Pedding Farm in Shatterling, who also grow the Northdown and Challenger varieties. With brewers cutting back on production, hop growers have also experienced financial problems over the last year because the reduced demand has caused a glut. Consequently, the owner of Great Pedding Farm will be closing down and grubbing up his plants. A great loss and a resource not easily replaced.

A job on the edge

There must be worse ways of earning a living than this new job, created by Lincolnshire County Council with funding from Historic England. The Council, recognising a lack of historic and architectural information about the county’s pubs, is looking to appoint a researcher/case worker for a project called Inns on the Edge. The research gathered will be used to update the county’s historical records as well as ‘raise awareness in response to the threat of pub closures, and help the hospitality sector recover from the pandemic’. The work will also be used to promote tourism. Initially the project will concentrate on a fifty mile stretch of the coast from Grimsby to Boston. It has funding for one year and the salary is £28,000. The Council’s Historic Places Manager, Ian George, explained that the successful candidate would need to be studious as well as sociable, with an understanding of historic buildings and the ability to interact with people. He added, “They want to be someone who can interview people and get stories from them, but also collect historic photographs of the pubs and the activities that used to go on in and around and associated with the pub.” Sorry, the deadline for applications was 3 May but it is reported that a similar project is being set up in Shropshire.