by Tim Bonner

I ought to declare an interest in rural pubs, not only as a keen user of them, but also because my daughter runs one. Pubs up and down the country form an integral part of the community, especially in rural areas, and one of the positives of the Covid pandemic has been the way so many of these key rural businesses have adapted to serve local communities with take away food, or as shops and community hubs.

They obviously provide a large number of jobs and also have a wide network of other businesses that rely on them being open, from butchers to breweries. But as important as they are as economic drivers it is the social benefits of a good local pub that stand out. In many parts of the country, especially as other services have increasingly retreated from rural communities, pubs can be one of the few places that provide social interaction for those living relatively isolated lives.

However, a recent survey we carried out has revealed the reality of the difficulties the pub trade faces as the Covid pandemic continues to have such an impact on the hospitality sector. Only 34 percent of those publicans who responded said their businesses can survive if they are shut until the summer. Pubs, especially pubs in rural areas, were closing and a worrying rate before Covid. The additional pressures of the last 12 months could prove devastating. 

Governments across the United Kingdom once again face the difficult task of balancing the different impacts of Covid on health and society as they remove restrictions over the coming months.  We have focussed on “5 asks” to government to ensure a future for rural pubs, based on the feedback we have had over many weeks from publicans up and down the country.

  1. Allow pubs to serve alcohol with takeaways as soon as possible. This is currently not allowed.
  2. Scrap the ‘substantial meal’ requirement, when pubs open again. 
  3. Provide these struggling businesses with increased financial support if pubs are forced to remain closed into the summer months.
  4. Offer a practical road map for pubs and the hospitality industry at large to help them realistically prepare for when they can resume trading again.
  5. Extend VAT at 5%, while ensuring rates are cut by 50 percent for the same length of time. 

Thousands of people in England have already emailed their MPs, and MPs of all parties have come out to support our campaign. You can add your voice to the campaign here if you are in England and from next week those in Wales will be able to lobby Members of the Senedd from our website. With your help we can protect our much-loved pubs and look forward to that pint of beer when they can re-open.

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