I thank Mike Wood for securing this debate. As the newly elected vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for beer, I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate.
In St Albans, there are a number of independent businesses that do not know if they will survive this financial year because of eye-watering increases in business rates. This Government have seven weeks to save them. St Albans is not only home to CAMRA—the Campaign for Real Ale, of which I must declare I am a member—but has regrettably also become home to the Save St Albans Pubs campaign and the national Save UK Pubs. More than 30% of our pubs have a rateable value greater than £51,000, which means they are not eligible for the business rate relief announced in the Queen’s Speech. I urge the Minister to look at that cap again and, as an immediate measure, extend the business rate relief beyond the £51,000 cap for pubs.
We all know that the business rates system is broken. We all know that it punishes property-based businesses, as well as those successful licensees who increase their turnover, but the implication of that is that our landmark pubs are most at threat—the landmark pubs that draw people into our towns and city centres. They are part of our landscapes and our tourist guides. They are the pubs that are printed on postcards, that are at the centre of food and drink festivals, and that host the charity events. They are steeped in our nation’s history and heritage.
Let me try to persuade the Minister with a few examples. Sean Hughes is the licensee of a pub called The Boot—the war of the roses started on its doorstep. The pub’s rateable value has gone up by 281% from £27,000 to £76,000. The Boot now has to sell an extra 22,000 pints a year just to cover the increase in business rates. It is simply not possible.
Christo Tofalli is the owner of Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, which dates back to the eighth century and is recorded in “The Guinness Book of Records” as the oldest inn in England. It has been forced to close two days a week to make savings to off-set the increase in business rates. The Cock, a grade II listed building, dates back to around 1600. Its rateable value is up by 216%.
Let us consider this disparity in a tale of two pubs: the Rose and Crown, and the Six Bells. These two pubs, both in the beautiful village of St Michael’s, on the edge of Verulamium Park, are less than 30 metres apart—it takes just one minute to walk from one to the other. They are a similar size and, until 2017, the difference in their rateable value was just over £8,000. Since the business rate review, despite being broadly the same size and practically next door to each other, the Rose and Crown has had a very welcome decrease in its rateable value, but that of the Six Bells has almost doubled. The gap has widened from £8,000 to a massive £43,250. The rateable value of the Six Bells is now three times as much as the Rose and Crown.
How on earth does the Minister expect that pub to compete, when the Government are hammering its ability to do so? They have got to get a grip. They have been dragging their heels on business rates reform for years and years. We need immediate rates relief to save some of these pubs, which are at the heart of our heritage, and we need wholesale reform of the entire system.