The House of Commons has held a much-needed backbench debate on the hospitality industry. The debate was lively, well attended and involved lots of MPs from the length and breadth of the UK. We were lucky to find four MPs from our branch area on the call paper. Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, Paul Howell, MP for Sedgefield, Richard Holden, MP for North West Durham and Mary Kelly Foy, MP for the City of Durham were due to speak. Sadly, Richard Holden was unable to speak due to time constraints, but on the same day he had authored a letter signed by many MPs to have reduced beer duty for ales sold on licensed premises.
The Branch had a keen interest in this debate, having invested lots of time since Christmas meeting all six of our local representatives. We thank all members, committee members, publicans and brewers who have engaged in this effort, and are pleased to report that our MPs presented a united picture of the need to support pubs, clubs, and breweries now, and into the future.
Mary Foy was keen to highlight the need to make employment in pubs more sustainable and fairer, whilst recognising the importance of pubs to our region. ‘Esh Winning needs the Stag’s Head; Brandon, the Brawn’s Den’, before she stated that the current support for the whole hospitality industry is not enough, given the pain of the last year. Mary asked for long term change, on the back of 5500 pub closures since 2010, saying she wants the government to create ‘a hospitality commission that can identify the needs of the sector while helping to move it away from its reliance on low-paid, insecure work’.
Grahame Morris was unequivocal that a year of lock downs, the nature of government support and covid suppression measures have had a serious impact on the overall hospitality sector, costing 650,000 jobs already, which is the sharpest impact of any sector. He went on to state, ‘I want to place on record my thanks to those businesses, which could have traded and employed people, for doing all they could to cut covid transmissions.’. Grahame voiced support for the extension of the time period that 5% VAT on food sales will apply, as part of helping businesses survive.
It is worth repeating Grahame’s whole section on Small Brewers’ Relief. ‘I want to say a few words about the small brewing industry, which is under threat from Government policy. In my constituency, the Castle Eden brewery is not only suffering from lack ofdemand and a lack of grant support, its business has been put at risk by the Government’s proposed changes to small brewers relief. There is a simple solution: retain the relief at 5,000 hectolitres and stop the proposed cut to 2,100 hectolitres. It would be a scandal if small brewers survive covid only to be put out of business by ill-conceived reforms to the small brewers relief.’
Paul Howell spoke with passion about the place that hospitality venues, including pubs and clubs, have in people’s lives and communities. He mentioned individual pubs, that included the Surtees Arms/Yard of Ale Brewery, and its landlord, Alan Hogg, as being typical of the places he was lending support to. Paul said, ‘The actions taken to frustrate the pandemic could not have been more focused on this industry if they tried.’ He welcomed the support offered, but wants it to go further, in line with our Branch’s aims.
Paul said, ‘I would encourage another look at extending the 5% VAT rate to alcohol sales on licensed premises, as well as an extension in time.’ He also supported Richard Holden’s letter that supports lowering beer duty on sales on licensed premises, which is another way of achieving the same effect of enabling our pubs and clubs to compete on a more equal footing with supermarkets. He went on to suggest that more support beyond the current deadlines of grants, the furlough scheme and business rates holidays will be needed, given that many pubs and clubs will likely only open in June/July.
Paul finished by placing in perspective the scale of the issues at hand. Pubs and clubs, the places that are the heart of our community and all of their supporting suppliers are at risk and put simply ‘We need to go above and beyond for them to give them the opportunity to give us our good times back.’
From a branch perspective, having three or our MPs speak and all mention issues that are central to our campaigning was pleasing. We were particularly pleased to hear them supporting the idea of a 5% VAT rate for alcohol sales on licensed premises (or beer duty reduced to achieve the same effect), to hear they wanted further targeted support for pubs and clubs, that Small Brewers Relief changes should be halted and that they asked for the sheer scale of the problems facing pubs, small brewers, and clubs to be recognised and confronted. We thank our MPs for highlighting these issues and will continue to work with them as we all find a way through this time, hopefully into a brighter future of ale, cider, pubs, clubs, and vibrant brewers, all at the heart of our communities.
The Hansard transcript of the debate is available HERE with our MPs speaking from 5.49pm
The Branch will endeavour to provide a full report and response to the debate over the next few days.