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Give us a break - Norwich landlords' plea to Cameron

PUBLISHED: 11:34 08 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:08 01 July 2010

Sarah Hall

Pub landlords today called on the government to cut them a break in the budget - after new figures showed twice as many bars and pubs went bust in the first three months of this year compared to 12 months ago.

Pub landlords today called on the government to cut them a break in the budget - after new figures showed twice as many bars and pubs went bust in the first three months of this year compared to 12 months ago.

The number of bar, pub and nightclub companies going bust has soared in the last year, according to a new report from accountancy firm Wilkins Kennedy, with cheap offers in supermarkets and the smoking ban blamed as factors in their demise.

The report said 23 pub, bar and nightclub companies became insolvent in the first three months of 2010 alone, a jump of 109pc on the 11 that went bust in the first three months of 2009.

Among them were Attleborough-based GRS Inns and its parent company London Town, which went into administration in February after being unable to repay debts following tough trading conditions.

And landlords in Norwich said the government could help the beleaguered industry in the budget later this month by bringing an end to the usual drink duty hikes.

The Evening News has, through our Love Your Local campaign, been highlighting how pubs are the heartbeat of the community and urging people to use them or lose them.

Since the campaign was launched about two dozen pubs reopened in the city compared to just six closing - but landlords want the government to recognise the need to help the industry.

Phil Cutter, landlord at The Murderers in Timberhill, said: “I cannot see how the new government can hit the licensing industry any more.

“The only way they can gain a bit of revenue would be by taxing the supermarkets which are selling cheap alcohol, which would help us.

“I think the chances are they will put up VAT by two-and-a-half per cent which we would probably absorb, but so close to the last budget, I'd like to think the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats will not come down hard this time.”

But Chris Higgins, who runs The Trafford Arms in Grove Road, was not so optimistic. He said: “I don't think we are going to get off at all.

“This industry has become a cash cow for governments and I think they'll keep using it like that. I know they were talking about rescinding the extra duty they put on cider, but at the end of the day, this government wants to get money coming into their coffers and we're the easy option.”

Anthony Cork, director of Wilkins Kennedy said: “What the pub and bar industry needs to see in the June 22 budget is an end to duty increases.

“The government needs to be understanding of the sector and not tax it out of existence. Such is the weak pricing power of much of the bar industry that bar operators have to either swallow tax increases themselves or lose custom to the supermarkets.”

Wilkins Kennedy says one ray of light from the new government is the new Social Responsibility Bill announced in the Queens Speech which may see the banning of the sale of alcohol below cost price and, therefore, lessen the competitive pressure from supermarkets.

Mr Cork said: “Bars continue to suffer an intense competitive threat from the buying might of the Big 4 supermarkets, undercutting local establishments and encouraging people to drink at home cheaply and “pre-loading” before coming out.

“The choice available in supermarkets is so extensive that pubs can only compete on that aspect without reshuffling their contracts with suppliers and that can be difficult.”

But landlord Mr Higgins said: “The minimum pricing option has got merit. I was against it initially, but I can see that it could work. But the problem is that the supermarkets have got so much power, are they really going to agree to it?”

The Wilkins Kennedy report said start of the decline in spending in pubs and bars came with the introduction of the smoking ban just as the recession kicked in.

He said because it was regulatory and legal changes which pushed the sector over the edge, politicians have an obligation not to heap further pain on pubs and bars.

In February MPs gathered at Westminster Hall to discuss the future of the British pub, at which Conservative shadow licensing minister Tobias Ellwood said a Conservative government would show “more flexibility” over business rates for pubs.

For more stories about pubs in and around Norwich visit www.eveningnews24.co.uk/loveyourlocal

And if you have a story about your local pub, whether it's a fundraising drive, a facelift, or a story about its battle to survive, call Evening News reporter David Bale on 01603 772427 or email david.bale2@archant.co.uk

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