Anne Main backs calls for review of business rate system for pubs

31st October 2017

Speaking ahead of the Budget in a debate on taxation of the beer and pubs sector, Anne Main backs a petition calling for a fundamental review of the business rate system to stop pubs disappearing from our villages, towns and cities, and for an immediate ‘pub cap’ which would limit the increases in rates bills to 12.5% in England.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Owen. This is an excellent debate, which is timely, coming just before the Budget, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood) has said.

St Albans is an extremely high property value area. It is a desirable area and its proximity to London makes it a destination for many families fleeing London for a better quality of life. That puts pressure on pubs in St Albans. Many of them are in small listed premises, in heritage buildings. The pubs struggle to survive in a world where big is beautiful and they generate footfall. St Albans is where the Campaign for Real Ale has its headquarters and it has a strong voice within the pub industry. I pay tribute to the landlords and owners of historic public houses in St Albans for the work that they do to keep their brand alive. It is not enough to say that pubs can survive in this day and age without considering the strains put on them. The historic Boot in French Row is a small, quaint, gorgeous pub that went through trials and tribulations trying to expand its kitchen because it has historic listing.

Similarly, we have the Fighting Cocks, one of the oldest pubs whose name derives from the history that encompassed it. Seeing historic pubs with historic pub names is what draws tourists into St Albans.

In my constituency, King’s Lynn also has a historic heart. CAMRA has been really proactive in driving forward all the issues, not least the issue around business rates and the impact on older buildings, which are much more expensive to maintain.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Indeed, CAMRA provided me with statistics. There are 62 pubs in St Albans supporting 1,651 jobs with an estimated £32.6 million in gross value added. That is a huge amount put into the local economy. I wrote to the Chancellor about this matter pre-2016 because the rateable value for many of the pubs is enormous. I pay tribute to Sean Hughes of the Boot in St Albans, who is busy collecting signatures. I can do no better in the short time that I have than to read what the petition calls for, because I fully support it. As the hon. Member for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) said, those who stood in 2015 stood on a manifesto of speaking up on pub business rates. I am afraid I did not read the 2017 manifesto because, like many, I was caught on the hop, so I do not know whether a review of business rates was in it. However, in principle I support that. The petition calls for an interim pub cap

“and a full review of the business rate system.”

It states:

“Pubs in St Albans and parts of England have been hit with extortionate business rate increases due to property values increasing over the past decade. We believe there needs to be a fundamental review on the business rate system to stop pubs disappearing from our villages, towns and cities. We are calling for an immediate interim "Pub Cap" limiting increases in rates bills to 12.5% in England (currently operating in Scotland) and a fundamental review of the whole system to ensure that pubs can survive and this British community asset will not be lost forever.”

I wholeheartedly agree with that.

Warm words will not save our pubs. Anything we say today about how important they are, how much they do for charities and how much they are a part of our constituencies will do absolutely nothing unless we have something along the lines of what that petition suggests. I know we are under pressure in St Albans, with an average house price of more than £500,000, but other areas are equally affected. We do not want to be lamenting the loss of our pubs because we did not take the issue seriously and do something about it when we had time to. Now is the time to take action, and I hope the Chancellor is listening.

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