I recognise the crucial role that pubs play in the social and economic life of our community here in Cheltenham, and I share your concern about the future of pubs and the hardship caused by the coronavirus outbreak. It has been a very difficult eighteen months and I know just how worried people have been – not just about their health, but about their livelihoods as well.
Significant support has been provided to Cheltenham pubs, as part of an overall package of Government support to Cheltenham alone valued at over £350m. On top of cash grants and business rates waivers (which saved Cheltenham businesses alone over £30m) one-off Restart Grants were made available worth up to £18,000 for hospitality, leisure, accommodation, personal care and gym businesses. In response to the Omicron variant, an additional one-off grant of up to £6,000 per premises was made available to businesses in the hospitality and leisure sectors.
The reduced VAT rate of 12.5 per cent and option to defer some VAT payments until March 2022 are continuing to support businesses, as is the UK-wide Recovery Loan Scheme which has been extended until June 2022.
Announcements made in the 2021 Spending Review will directly help to support pubs as they adapt and recover from the pandemic, with a five per cent cut to duty rates on beer and cider. I am told that this is the biggest cut to these duties in 50 years and almost 100 years, respectively. The hospitality industry will also benefit from frozen alcohol duty rates which will continue from 2021-22 into 2022-23.
Expanding on the business rates holiday introduced in response to the pandemic and the 66 per cent relief which remains in place for 2021-22, a new relief will be introduced for eligible retail, hospitality and leisure properties. This will see over 90 per cent of retail, hospitality and leisure businesses receive at least 50 per cent off their business rates bills in 2022-23.
A ban on commercial evictions has been extended until 25 March 2022 to help protect tenants who are unable to pay, and to give landlords and tenants time to negotiate how to share the cost of rent debts caused by the pandemic. These negotiations are being underpinned by a new Code of Practice. Additionally, I am told that legislation will be brought forward to ringfence outstanding unpaid rent accumulated while businesses, such as pubs, had to remain closed during the pandemic.
Looking to the future, I welcome the fact that the Government’s long-term strategy for the hospitality sector includes an extension to pavement licences, making it easier and cheaper for pubs, restaurants and cafes to continue to make outdoor dining a reality with seating, tables and street stalls to serve food and drinks. There is also an intention to make these licences permanent. On top of this, pubs will be given more flexibility through a 12-month extension of temporary permissions for the off-sale of alcohol.
Evidence continues to be collected on the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality sector and I am confident that the Government’s ongoing support will help pubs, which are the lifeblood of our communities, to recover and build back better.