Covid-19: Hospitality Industry

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:26 pm on 24th March 2021.

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Photo of Greg Smith Greg Smith Conservative, Buckingham 6:26 pm, 24th March 2021

I congratulate my hon. Friend Selaine Saxby and Ruth Cadbury on securing this debate. I associate myself with the remarks made a few moments ago by my hon. Friends the Members for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish) and for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) regarding the wedding sector and the wider events sector, but I want to focus my three minutes on pubs and small breweries, particularly in rural communities. A recent survey by the Countryside Alliance revealed the harsh reality that our pub trade faces. Only 34% of publicans who replied to that survey said they can hold out if they are shut until the summer, and we know from British Beer and Pub Association research that 60% of all pubs in the UK will remain closed after 12 April, even under the current road map. Losing pubs would be devastating and irreversible.

I welcome the Chancellor’s continued support in the form of additional grants, the extension to the job retention scheme, the 5% VAT rate, and the business rates holiday. However, there are some gaps that need to be addressed. I am backing the Countryside Alliance’s #UnlockInn campaign, particularly calling for all pubs to be permitted to serve takeaway alcohol right away. The current situation is perverse, given that supermarkets can continue to sell alcohol. Likewise, indoors trade should be permitted from 12 April. Ever since my election, I have been delighted to support the Long Live the Local campaign, calling for a beer tax cut to support our local pubs. I hope the ongoing alcohol duty review will conclude that a cut to beer duty will support our brewers and pubs and level the playing field. Likewise, the proposal from the Campaign for Real Ale for a draught-beer duty cut would further help level that playing field: modelling shows that just a 5% duty cut for draught beer could create 1,000 jobs in the on-trade.

Coupled with that is the need to reverse the proposed changes to small breweries relief. Some 2 million fewer pints of craft beer were brewed by small breweries last year, and two small breweries a week closed their doors for good last summer. There are four fantastic independent breweries in my constituency: Chiltern, XT, Vale and Blackpit. These businesses are set to be hard pressed by the proposed changes. A small brewery may have to pay up to £44,000 extra tax per year, putting jobs and their recovery at risk, and those changes will be introduced next January, giving businesses hit by covid little time to prepare. What is the point in helping the hospitality trade if there are not vibrant, diverse and local beers on offer when the economy reopens? Finally, it is absolutely crucial that the dates in the road map are kept to, or brought forward. That way, we can give our hospitality sector the best chance of recovery, and get the pints pouring once more.