Thank you for contacting me about supporting our pubs. Please know that I am fully supportive of the pubs and brewery sectors.
Like you, I believe the pub plays a crucial role in community life - both as a source of enterprise and as a vehicle for community action - and I am dismayed at the current rate of closure. This is an industry that is of huge importance to our constituency, its communities, and indeed to the national economy. This is a significant economic and social driver that we need to do more to support. I fully recognise therefore the value that pubs can provide to small, rural communities and I welcome the Government's efforts to support this through the taxation system.
I do however continue to press the case with Government on keeping under review the scope for additional targeted support for those sectors that continue to struggle and are slower to recover such as the tourist and hospitality sectors and the aviation sector. In addition I am a member of the Gaps in Support All Parliamentary Group working for additional support.
No one wants to see further restrictions and I understand that many pub landlords have concerns about the lockdown measures and the new restrictions that will be in place once lockdown is lifted. The rapid spread of the virus across the country has made restrictions necessary to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.
The closure of pubs has been difficult to bear and the Government is rightly providing significant support for hospitality businesses. It is reassuring that the Chancellor has unveiled further economic support for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, including pubs, in light of the new lockdown restrictions. New one-off top-up grants were announced, worth up to £9,000 per property, to help businesses through to the spring. For those businesses not eligible for the grants, a £594 million discretionary fund is being made available by the Government as a matter of urgency.
The new one-off grants come in addition to billions of pounds of existing business support, including grants worth up to £3,000 for closed businesses, and up to £2,100 per month for impacted businesses once they reopen.
I understand that pubs have been subject to debilitating restrictions for a long time, and I hear requests for a longer-term sector-specific package of support. While I take account of your concerns, and will bear them in mind, I welcome that pubs have had access to unprecedented levels of support throughout the pandemic. Ministers have been forthcoming in unveiling support grants, business rates relief, Government-backed loans and access to schemes such as the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. As a package, these measures worked to support publicans and I know that Ministers will continue to respond to developments as they happen.
I appreciate your concerns regarding the sale of alcohol for takeaway by pubs. While this has been permitted under previous restrictions, I understand that the Government is concerned about the impact that this could have on facilitating the unlawful gathering of individuals outside of pubs. As such, it has been decided that pubs may only sell food and non-alcoholic drinks for takeaway, and alcoholic drinks for delivery. I realise the strain this puts pubs under that do not have an off-licence, which is why it is important that restrictions are lifted as soon as possible once it is safe to do so.
As there continues to be a high number of cases, including of the new variant, restrictions need to be in place to reduce coronavirus transmission and protect lives. Evidence indicates that the risk present in pubs and bars is higher than many other indoor settings, as people tend to be in close to one another for a long time without face coverings. People also speak louder, generating more aerosols in sometimes poorly ventilated venues. The Scientific Advisory Group of Emergencies estimated that restrictions on pubs and restaurants would have a moderate effect on lowering transmission rates.
I welcome that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been extended until April in response to new national restrictions, and to give people and businesses across the whole United Kingdom the certainty they need over what will be a difficult winter. Under the extension, the Government will pay 80 per cent of wages up to a cap of £2,500, with employers paying employer National Insurance Contributions and pension contributions only for the hours the employee does not work. Flexible furloughing will be allowed in addition to full-time furloughing.
The upcoming Budget in March will make further announcements on financial support and I know that all taxes, including business rates, are kept under review. I have been reassured by my colleagues in the Treasury that they are aware of the calls for a VAT reduction on alcohol. I shall be following the developments on this issue closely, and I will ensure my colleagues at the Treasury are aware of the strength of feeling on this issue.
Despite this, I am glad that evidence continues to be collected on the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality sector and we must look forward to the easing of restrictions as soon as possible. I will continue to make the case in Parliament for more direct support for our pubs so that communities do not lose them for good.
You might also be interested to see in the weblink above that I have recently urged the Chancellor to support small breweries.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.