Government is urged to use Brexit freedoms to help save pubs

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The Government is being urged to use Brexit to safeguard pubs after new research showed that 14 are closing every week.

The figure has fallen from 18 last year following new local planning protection for pubs in England. The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) said Theresa May’s Government will have the freedom to cut beer duty in pubs after the UK leaves the EU. The move would level the playing field between the price of beer sold in supermarkets, according to Camra.

Camra said Theresa May's Government will have the freedom to cut beer duty in pubs after Brexit. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Camra said Theresa May's Government will have the freedom to cut beer duty in pubs after Brexit. Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire

Jackie Parker, the chairman of Camra, said: “Pubs are a very important part of our national culture, and are valuable community assets which help combat loneliness and social isolation. A lower beer duty rate for pubs could be an absolute game-changer in keeping our pubs open as well as encouraging responsible drinking in a social setting.

“It’s great we have seen a drop in the number of pubs closing, showing that our hard-fought campaign to get planning protection for pubs was worth it.

“It’s taken nearly two years for the trickle-down effects of the planning changes to show.”

A Treasury spokesman said: “In recognition of the important contribution of British pubs and drinks makers to our communities, we have frozen taxes on beer, cider and spirits again this year. We’re supporting an industry that employs 900,000 people across the UK.

“Whether it’s local pubs, craft cider mills or independent distillers, we are helping these businesses to thrive and ensuring they remain at the heart of our economy.”

Britain’s managed pub and restaurant groups saw sales slump in January after a strong Christmas, according to latest figures from the Coffer Peach Business Tracker, with collective like-for-like sales down 1.8 per cent against the same month last year.

Karl Chessell, the director of CGA, the business insight consultancy that produces the Tracker, in partnership with Coffer Group and RSM, said: “After strong trading over the festive season, which saw sector like-for-like sales 4.1 per cent up on 2017, operators will be disappointed that there has been no follow-through into January – even though the weather, and in particular the lack of snow early in the month, was better than last year.

Mr Chessell added: “However, it is worth remembering that January is always a relatively quiet month. The first big test of the year for the market is the February half-term holidays, then Easter – although this year Brexit is bringing more anxiety for the industry.”

Overall like-for-like trading in London was in line with the rest of the country. It was down 1.9 per cent compared with minus 1.7 per cent outside the M25, the survey said.

Mr Chessell added: “Branded restaurant operators continue to have a tougher time than pubs, despite many closing under performing sites in the last year, and that is most marked inside the M25 where competition is more intense and consumers are more likely to look for, and find, somewhere new to try out.”

Trevor Watson, executive director of valuations at Davis Coffer Lyons, said: “The figures are indicative of the malaise affecting consumers in the post-Christmas period.

He added: “Trading prospects are likely to remain weak, which mirrors statistics for the wider UK economy where there is a clear indication of a slowdown.

“The strongest innovative operators who continue to exceed customer expectations in terms of service and value are trading well, as indicated in Christmas trading statements.”

Mr Chessell added: “Despite Dry January, drink sales in pubs held up better than food sales, they are down 0.7 per cent compared to minus 2.0 per cent, suggesting underlying food growth in pubs appears to be peaking, as competition and choice in the food out-of-home (sector) increases generally.”

The Coffer Peach Tracker industry sales monitor for the UK pub, bar and restaurant sector collects and analyses performance data from 49 operating groups, with a combined turnover of more than £9bn.

RSM’s head of leisure and hospitality, Paul Newman, said: “We expect discretionary spending on eating and drinking out to remain constrained as Brexit uncertainty continues to weigh on consumer sentiment.”

Total sales across the 49 companies in the Tracker, which include the effect of net new openings since this time last year, were ahead by 0.4 per cent compared with last January. Underlying like-for-like growth for the Tracker cohort was running at 1.2 per cent for the 12 months to the end of January.