Radical tax relief plans could help save Norwich’s pubs

A lifeline in the form of a tax break could be thrown to publicans if they can prove they serve their local community.

Radical plans to help pubs survive the recession would see business rates cut by a half, saving them thousands of pounds.

A report by a leading think-tank recommends giving community pubs tax breaks after a survey found that 16 pubs were closing each week across the country.

To qualify to have half of their business rates back, pubs would have to show how they serve local communities.

The Institute for Public Policy Research said the move would help prevent the loss of more pubs, after a survey found a majority of people see pubs as the best place to keep up to speed with their community.

Norwich publicans have today called for the recommendations to be taken on board by the government in time for the next review of business rates in 2013.

City pubs can cost �400 to �500 a week in rates, falling to about �250 a month in the countryside.

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The Institute for Public Policy Research is recommending a 50pc business rate relief for those pubs that can prove they act as community hubs.

The call comes just days after Camra called for the government to take urgent action after research revealed that 16 pubs were closing each week in the country. The IPRR says that tax relief would help prevent the loss of more pubs which strengthen local networks, after a survey it commissioned found a majority of people see pubs as the best place to keep up to speed with their community.

To qualify to have half of their business rates back, pubs would have to show how they serve local communities.

As the Norwich Evening News' Love Your Local campaign, which aims to get people back into pubs, has shown, there's no shortage of community pubs in Norwich.

In the last three years we have reported that dozens of pubs across the city go that extra mile for the community.

Whether it's strengthening local social networks or being a place where different backgrounds can mix and socialise, our pubs fit the criteria needed to be community pubs.

And while none of our pubs, to my knowledge, provides a post office, general store, a pharmacy collection point or offers free use of its toilet facilities, many businesses offer customers internet access and hold regular charitable fundraising events and host meetings of local groups.

Other pubs go that extra mile by keeping tabs on some of their elderly and vulnerable customers, and send someone round to their homes if they don't show up.

Many of Norwich's best pubs were built in residential areas to serve the people living nearby, and they keep that tradition alive.

Michaela Roberts, landlady at the Kings Arms in Hall Road, said her pub was proud to serve its community.

She welcomed the recommendations and said: 'That would be great. Business rate relief is only reviewed every five years, and the next time will be 2013, so pubs are still paying rates based on what their takings were in 2008, before the recession.'

Mrs Roberts said they tried to provide support and entertainment for the community.

She said: 'Whenever there's a national event we like to do something for the community, such as a haggis event for Burns' night. When somebody passes away, people are there for each other.

'We are very local although we do get people coming in just for our real ales and fish and chips. And like many pubs in Norwich we are very much oriented towards the football club.'

Felix Snell, landlord at the Quebec pub in Quebec Road, would also like to see the recommendation taken up by the government.

He said: 'We are a community pub and pubs have always been the general meeting place for the community, and one of the only places left where people can go for a chat and to meet friends.

'We also raise a lot of money for local charities by holding different events. Pubs need help at the moment with 16 closing a week in the country.'

The Heath House in Gertrude Road, north Norwich, is also primarily a community pub, with most of its customers living within walking distance.

Landlord and owner Malcolm McCann has introduced internet access to the pub, to attract the younger people in the area, but older people are also catered for with bowls, darts and cribbage teams based at the venue.

One of the pub's regulars has been going there for 60 years, and people use it as a meeting place and somewhere to catch up on community news.

Meanwhile, the IPPR is calling on the government to stop using a 'one-size-fits-all' approach to licensed premises, which it says is killing off community pubs.

Rick Muir, associate director at IPPR, said: 'Instead, responsible well-run community pubs should be encouraged and supported.

'Our research shows community pubs aren't just places to drink but also places where people meet their neighbours, where local clubs hold meetings and events, and which support many important local services such as village post offices and general stores.'

According to the researchers' calculations, pubs that serve as community hubs can generate between �20,000 and �120,000 of 'social value' each year.

British Beer and Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: 'We will be looking at these proposals in detail, but we can certainly agree with some of the key points – the immense social value of pubs and the pressing need to address the huge increases in beer tax we have seen in recent years.'

Communities minister Bob Neill said: 'This government is already taking decisive action to support community pubs. We have doubled small business rate relief for two-and-a-half years, which gives up to 100pc rate relief for small firms including pubs.

'Country pubs may also be eligible for rural business rate relief. On top of this, we have abolished the last government's cider tax, are cutting red tape on live music in pubs and are stopping unfair sales of alcohol below cost-price by supermarkets.'

The Evening News has been urging people to return to pubs in our Love your Local campaign. To see more stories from the campaign visit www.eveningnews24.co.uk/ loveyourlocal.

What are doing to help your local survive? Call reporter David Bale on 01603 772427 or email david.bale2@archant.co.uk.