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Guest Column

Time to rescue the poor battered pub

Added: Thursday, March 14th 2013

Dawn Hopkins

With beer duty due to be raised during next week's budget, we are publishing the speech Norwich publican Dawn Hopkins made at the rally against the escalator in London in January.

I would like to thank CAMRA organising this rally and for being so proactive about this issue and for inviting me here to speak, someone on the front line when it comes to the effects of the Beer Duty Escalator. I have two pubs in Norwich – The Ketts & The Rose, plus a fledgling brewery – Norwich Bear (Bear being how we say beer where I come from!) And I am truly honoured to be able to speak on behalf of this countries amazing publicans.

It’s a recession, businesses are struggling, but none seem in quite such a dire state as the pub industry – latest CAMRA figures suggesting 18 pubs a week are closing.  Why are we struggling more than anyone else?  There are many factors of course –  the recession means people have less money to spend, then there is also above inflation rises in energy, business rates, insurance. But pubs get an extra tax – the Beer Duty Escalator, putting 2% above inflation each year on the cost of a pint.  That’s an extra tax no other industry has, not even the petrol industry now.  And that’s over £1 given to straight to the Government in duty and VAT from every pint you buy.

Margins are tight in the pub industry, for the reasons I have just mentioned, so any price increase to us has to be passed on to the customer – without doing that many more pubs would close, and the ones that didn’t would have no money for improvements, maintenance, taking on extra staff, moving things forward (maybe even let the licensee have some time off!). 

The supermarkets don’t have the same worries that we do – they make their profits elsewhere so continue to sell beer cheaper than water to entice people in, so the gulf between the price paid to drink at home and the price paid to drink in the pub widens. 

I came into this industry nearly 13 years ago, and a lot has changed.  The hours were long and the work hard, but back then when you worked hard you were rewarded with a pub full of customers and enough money in the till to put enough by for the next VAT bill, for some improvements to be made and a bit for yourself and family.  But not any more.  I’m fed up with hearing that it is only rubbish pubs that are closing and rubbish licensees that are losing their pubs, their homes, their livelihoods, their life savings, and ending up in masses of debt. It’s just not true – many of us are working up to 100 hours a week to keep our pubs open, and many of us are earning nowhere near a living wage, even the minimum wage would be nice.  In the face of this even the best licensees sometimes have little choice but to pack up and find a job elsewhere that supports their family and doesn’t affect their health.

You’ve truly got to love this industry to work in it – the hours are long, relentless and anti-social, stress levels are high, there are sparse financial rewards and everyone knows how to do your job better then you do!  But I do love it – I love my pubs, I love the banter, I love having a social life at the bottom of my stairs, I love educating staff and customers alike on the joys of ale, and I even love most of my customers!   But sadly, in this case, love is not enough.