News and views – March 2022

BUSINESS RATES

There has still not been a long term resolution to the problems with business rates, despite continuing pressure from the trade. The consequences of Covid, along with more recent events, have made the situation even more urgent. The All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group are now conducting an inquiry into business rates (as they apply in England) and, on 17 February, CAMRA made its submission to them. CAMRA wants the system to acknowledge the role of local pubs as community hubs. The amount that a pub pays should be related to its profitability, not its turnover, and publicans who invest in improvements should not be penalised by consequently having their business rates increased because they have increased the notional value of the property. Many in the hospitality trade believe that there needs to be some way of having businesses which operate on-line make an appropriate contribution and that business rates should not be levied only on property based businesses. The Government is starting a consultation on an on-line sales tax.

CAMRA’s national chairman, Nik Antona, commented, “Local pubs are at the heart of communities up and down the country and play a vital role in bringing people together and tackling loneliness and social isolation. As we emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic, our locals are needed more than ever before. But even before the pandemic, pubs were hard hit by the huge and unfair burden of business rates which unfairly penalise pubs more than other types of business. With publicans facing huge increases in the cost of goods, energy and with rising staffing costs, it is absolutely vital that the Government urgently commits to changing the current business rates system to better support pubs or else we could risk losing even more of our beloved locals for good.”

NUMBERS

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) produces a report called the Official UK Business Count. The latest figures for the hospitality sector were published recently in the Morning Advertiser. They speak for themselves, I think.

                                           2010        2021

Public houses and bars                     44,680      37,865

Licensed clubs                             10,040       6,985

Licensed restaurants                       27,885      36,035

Unlicensed restaurants and cafes           15,365      32,375

INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

CAMRA celebrated International Women’s Day by holding a tasting of beers produced by brewsters as the background to a debate on the work still needed to achieve gender equality in the industry. The event was held on-line and was open to all CAMRA members. It was hosted by Laura Hadland, author of 50 Years of CAMRA and some 50 people attended. Five beers were included, brewed by Elly Bell of Durham Brewery, Sara Barton of Brewster’s Brewing Company, Becky Kean of Nirvana Brewery, Charlotte Cook of Coalition Brewery and Alesha Ivey of Five Points Brewery.

There were also a number of events held across the country by breweries such as Wells & Co at their new Brewpoint project, Brewhouse & Kitchen in Chester and Nomadic Beers in Leeds.

CAMRA AND DIVERSITY

CAMRA recently launched a consultation into inclusivity, diversity, and equality within the Campaign. Both members and non-members were asked to share their experiences of such events as beer festivals and how the Campaign communicates and presents itself. This part of the process ended on Monday 14 February and the results are now being processed. The exercise is being led by vice chairman Abigail Newton, who said, “We want everyone to feel welcome and safe within CAMRA. We need to review the effectiveness of our approach and policies regularly, in order to evaluate how we are doing and make improvements where needed. I’m incredibly proud to be involved in this review and want to encourage anyone, whether they are a CAMRA member or not, who has had an interaction with the Campaign to please share their views and experiences. It is only by having a say that real change can be made.”

FAIR SHARES

Further to my report on the West Berkshire Brewery, I received a letter from a shareholder who reminded me that the company’s going into administration effectively wiped out the value of WBB shareholdings. I know that investors are always given the ‘value can go down as well as up’ warning but losing it completely is a blow for those who had faith in the business concerned. The same applies to contributions made through ‘crowdfunding’.

PROPERTY GUARDIANS

Here is some significant information passed to CAMRA branches by Paul Ainsworth, CAMRA’s National Planning Policy Adviser. Readers will be aware that developers often protect pubs which they have acquired and closed by installing so called property guardians, people who enjoy cheap temporary accommodation while keeping the property safe. This is normally organised for the owners by security companies.

Recently, in one such case, Hackney borough council issued an enforcement notice because it regarded this as an unauthorised change of use from sui generis public house to residential accommodation, a change which requires planning permission. Hackney’s position was upheld on appeal by the Planning Inspectorate. A key point here is that, after four years, an owner could apply for a Certificate of Lawful Development which would effectively by-pass the need for planning permission and the site would be lost as a pub without due process. It is therefore vital that the local planning authority (usually the council) takes enforcement action before that point is reached. Such cases need to be reported accordingly. Paul has asked for details of any such cases so that CAMRA can assess the scale of the problem. He can be contacted on paul.ainsworth@camra.org.uk.

Another point that has recently been clarified is that it is also an unauthorised change of use if the owners or former licensees remain in residential occupation after the pub has been closed down. Their previous status gives them no special rights here.

UNFAIR

I’m sure that readers will join me in wishing a speedy recovery to all those publicans whose premises were hit by the wind and floods caused by the three successive storms at the end of February. It was particularly sad to hear several of them explaining in radio interviews that, having been flooded before, they could no longer obtain insurance cover. If the appropriate authorities cannot prevent the floods then surely there should be some entitlement to compensation for these businesses?

BREWING AT THE BELL

The Bell in Aldworth (RG8 9SE), Grade II listed, perennial Good Beer Guide entry and CAMRA’s National Pub of the Year in 2019, has received planning consent to start brewing in an outbuilding. The pub is run by three generations of the Macauley family and the youngest, James, will be the brewer. He has had training at West Berkshire Brewery. The landlord, Hugh, told the Get Reading website that the news has caused a lot of interest locally and that, “A few volunteers have come forward to test the beer before we pull it through the pumps but I’m absolutely head of the queue.” If you wish to visit, and it is worth it, please check the opening times first and beware the hill between Goring and Aldworth.

BEERMAT MEMORIES

I spotted this item in the Evening Standard of 15 February. Iris Murdoch, the author, who passed away in February 1999, was a great fan of the British pub. In one of her books a character describes pubs as ‘hallowed meeting places of all mankind’. A bag of beermats was found among her effects and crowdfunding is taking place to pay for the publication of a book, Iris Murdoch’s Beermats, to celebrate the pubs she enjoyed. These include the Pillars of Hercules in Soho (now renamed Jimi Loves Gloria) and the Old Pack Horse in Chiswick.

You can keep up to date with these and other developing stories via the CAMRA London Region Twitter account @camra_london