Ruthless rate rise prompts fight to save St Albans pubs

Pubs throughout St Albans are banding together to fight the increase

Pubs throughout St Albans are banding together to fight the increase - Credit: Archant

The government’s plundering of local pub coffers could cripple the industry and send some to the wall, landlords have warned.

With pubs in St Albans facing an estimated 72 per cent hike in business rates from April, they have banded together to fight the ‘unfair’ bill, which will leap by over £27,000 per business.

The ‘Save St Albans Pubs’ campaign has been launched after landlords, who met on Monday (23), established that 27 out of 37 pubs in the city faced substantial increases in their business rates.

The Herts Advertiser understands the additional cost could result in the loss of 54 jobs, unless local venues sell an additional 21 pints a day per pub – the equivalent of 3,000 kegs of ale between the 27 pubs annually.

The total demand from St Albans district council – which collects the money on behalf of the government – will be £693,950 a year, from those 27 pubs must affected.

Although business rates are set by central government, and are thus not under the control of the district council, local pubs have demanded that “the equation used for community pubs be reviewed”.

Alan Oliver, owner of the Six Bells pub in St Michael’s Street, which faces an increase of 98 per cent, said the way in which rates were calculated was ‘very confusing’.

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He added that aside from high rents, beer and food price increases experienced post-Brexit meant, “a lot of pubs will be struggling. We are asking the council and the government to justify these figures, as we don’t understand it. [St Albans MP] Anne Main has been made aware of the situation, as pubs, including independents like myself, are going to struggle to make things viable.

“The pub game is a difficult game. St Albans is historically a pub town, and has the oldest one in England [Ye Olde Fighting Cocks].

“We don’t think it would be the same city without the pubs.”

Mrs Main said she was hoping to organise a parliamentary debate on the issue.

Following complaints about the looming increase, Harpenden MP Peter Lilley wrote to Communities Secretary Sajid Javid about the business rate revaluation, and its impact upon public houses.

In response, Mr Javid said that pubs had seen “significant changes in what they offer customers since 2010, such as casual dining, and many have experienced significant turnover increases.

“This is reflected in rental and, therefore, rateable values for this revaluation.”

Mr Javid added that local authorities “have wide ranging powers to provide discounts on business rates bills as they see fit, including providing additional support for local public houses.”

St Albans district council’s chief finance officer Colm O’Callagan said that a meeting would be held with publicans at the end of this month.

He added: “Pubs play an important role in communities across the district and are of great benefit to the local economy. We are always ready to listen to their concerns and provide support where we can.”

The next business rates revaluation takes effect from April 1 this year, and will update rateable values to reflect the market as at April 1 2015. The Valuation Office Agency is responsible for this revaluation.