Campaign for Pubs

“Support pubs now Rishi or you’ll be responsible for mass closures, job losses and hardship”: Publicans write open letter to the Chancellor

Britain’s publicans have written a powerful open letter to the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, urging him and the Government to urgently support pubs or be responsible for mass closures, job losses and hardship.

The letter, organised by the Campaign for Pubs, the national grassroots campaign group representing pubs, publicans and pub-goers, expresses publicans’ dismay at the woeful lack of support from the Chancellor in his economic statement on Thursday, and points out that without further help many pubs now face imminent closure under new Government-imposed restrictions.

Publicans all over the UK are urged to add their name to the letter, which can be signed online here.

The letter comes at the end of the first weekend of pubs operating with a 10pm curfew and mandatory table service, with most reporting significant drops in trade. Many publicans are now considering whether to close their pubs and either mothball them until after the restrictions end or to simply walk away altogether, especially with many pubs still facing large rent bills from uncaring and intransigent pubcos and commercial landlords.

The letter explains how, in the Chancellor’s statement this week, thousands of pubs that don’t serve food were given no help and support whatsoever, despite the fact that the 10pm curfew and table service requirement have both had a drastic impact on the viability of pubs. Both measures simultaneously reduce trade and increases costs, a disastrous double whammy on top of the three-month national lockdown, existing restrictions and additional local restrictions in some areas.

The letter also points out that while the extension of the 5% VAT rate for eating out is of limited help to some pubs, it gives another huge boost to alternative big business hospitality venues, including fast-food chains like McDonalds and KFC and other chains, and it does nothing at all to help many of the pubs that need help most: smaller “wet-led” pubs, micropubs and taprooms, all run by small businesses and operating at the heart of their communities. The letter also points out that the new Job Support Scheme offers no help at all to most pubs, as on current trading figures many actually need more staff not fewer, and certainly could not afford to subsidise staff for not working.

The letter expresses publicans’ serious concerns at the latest restrictions imposed by the Government, with pubs all around the country reporting significant drops in trade, many to the point where they will have no choice but to close the doors to prevent further losses. There is real anger amongst licensees about the 10pm curfew, which has no scientific basis, but which makes it impossible for some pubs reliant on Friday and Saturday night trade to operate profitably. Many publicans and others have expressed the folly of such a policy, for which the Government has already been forced to admit it made no impact assessment and which has already been shown to have led to crowding on the streets and on public transport at closing time, and furthermore risks people turning their backs on the controlled environment of the pub and instead going to uncontrolled social gatherings in their homes or other unregulated venues.

There is also anger that, with venues already having invested in physical infrastructure such as screens and other measures to keep customers safe, the Government has now insisted on table service, which not only makes many pub staff less safe but also increases staff costs significantly, something that most pubs simply cannot manage with the current levels of trade.

The letter calls for an urgent package of support for pubs, warning the Chancellor that if he doesn’t listen to UK publicans, he and the Government will be directly responsible for mass pub closures, job losses and hardship among thousands of families reliant on the pub trade. The measures being called for are:

  • 5% (or even better zero) VAT on ALL sales in pubs
  • Grants to cover full costs if pubs cannot viably trade due to the current restrictions and have to close temporarily
  • A business rates holiday extension, with a complete overhaul for business rates for pubs prior to recommencing
  • A statutory right to an immediate rent review for all pubs, to tackle the fact many pubs are facing wholly unreasonable rent levels, considering the Government restrictions and reduced trade

The letter lays out the stark reality that many pubs are better off closing due to the new restrictions, and highlights the unfairness of the fact that, despite his own Government imposing these restrictions, the Chancellor announced nothing to help pubs through this next six months.

The letter urges the Chancellor to meet with publicans, having ignored the voice of the people that actually devote their lives to running pubs for far too long (as opposed to those representing large pubcos and breweries). The letter ends with such a plea:

So we are urging you to listen to the nation’s publicans – to meet with us and understand that we need urgent support now to get through the next six months. If you ignore us, you and the Government will be responsible for the closure and loss of many important pubs up and down the country, as well as causing loss and hardship for publicans, pub staff and their families.

Commenting, Paul Crossman, Chair of the Campaign for Pubs and licensee of 3 pubs in York said:

“Pubs up and down the UK have done their utmost to reopen safely since lockdown, and the vast majority have managed to do so in a way that has been welcomed and praised by their customers and communities. This despite the fact we have had to cope with constantly shifting and ambiguous, and usually last-minute, Government guidance.

“The announcement of strict new measures by the Prime Minister this week came as a huge blow to the great many responsible publicans who have invested so much time, effort and money in order to provide a service which safeguards their customers and the communities they serve. The lack of subsequent support in the Chancellor’s own speech will have come as the final straw for many despairing small business publicans, who now simply lack the reserves to carry on.

“A huge number of our beloved pubs are now under imminent threat due to the dubious policy choices of this Government. If they do not reconsider their position and invest in support for pubs now, the potential loss to our economy, our communities and the character of our towns and cities will be incalculable. For this they would ultimately face the judgement of the British public themselves who will need and indeed cherish the unique collective community spirit of their precious local pubs more than ever once this crisis is finally over”.

Dawn Hopkins, Vice-Chair of the Campaign for Pubs and licensee of the Rose, Norwich (a wet-led pub) said:

“Britain’s publicans feel ignored and betrayed by Rishi Sunak and the Government. We have spent the last three months working hard to make our pubs safe and then the Government imposes some frankly stupid rules that make everyone less safe, and decimate our trade.

“To do this without offering is support means that Rishi Sunak has turned his back on the nation’s pubs. He is telling us that he doesn’t care if we close or how publicans pay their bills or feed their children. It is the Government that is making many pubs unviable, through ill-considered non-evidence-based rules and the Government must compensate us for the amount of trade we will and are already losing. If Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson ignore us then they will go down in history as the men who destroyed the Great British pub, so we urge them to change course, look again at these destructive rules, and to either allow us to trade safely and viably as we were, or to properly support us”.