A MAJOR pub operator has called for the Government to “lay off” the local.
Punch Taverns, which has about 80 pubs in the Huddersfield area and more than 7,000 UK-wide, said pubs had been for too long at the sharp-end of “punitive” Government measures.
It said: “Our licensees continue to face increased pressures from burgeoning red tape and bureaucracy combined with the effects of duty increases on alcohol that continue to have a detrimental impact both on our licensees’ health and the sustainability of the great British pub.
“We believe that the scale of tax increases, combined with the ever-increasing cost and confusion of legislative changes is proving a significant burden for many pubs and is effectively putting some pubs out of business.”
The UK’s biggest pubs group made the plea as it revealed that one-off costs resulted in a loss of £122m for the six months to March 7 – as group sales fell by 6% to £768m.
Excluding one-off costs, the company made pre-tax profits of £82m compared with £133m last time as it sought to improve cash flow and reduce debts.
It also revealed it was putting about 1,250 of its worst-performing pubs in a separate “turnaround” division to be managed outside its normal regional structure and get a closer level of support to help them through the recession.
Responding to criticism that “beer ties” were to blame for pubs struggling, the company said most pub closures in the UK were among free houses while the rate of closure among Punch’s tenanted estate was about 5% at the half-year.
The company added: “It is in the long-term interest of both parties to ensure that this relationship is sustainable and that both Punch and the licensee fulfil their obligations.
“It is not in our interests to see any of our pubs fail and we are investing significant time and resource to ensuring that we support our licensees’ businesses.”
David Wigham, operations director covering Huddersfield, said pubs in the region were hoping to benefit from a long, hot summer and the increased number of people choosing to holiday at home.
He said: “A trip to the pub is still an affordable luxury.
“We are making sure we have the right people operating a welcoming, clean pub with a strong customer service ethos.”
Mr Wigham said Punch had invested heavily in helping leaseholders tailor their pubs to their local communities, adding: “Where our leaseholders are providing what their local market wants, they are doing well.”
Punch has helped pubs invest in areas such as Wi-fi to attract business people and “off-the-shelf” food products for pubs without catering kitchens.
Among its local pubs, Punch had invested £100,000 in improvements at The Royal, Kirkburton, and £80,000 to install catering facilities at The Black Bull, Shepley.
Other Punch outlets include Isaacs in Huddersfield town centre, the Cavalry Arms in Birchencliffe, the Railway in Honley, the Golden Cock in Farnley Tyas, the Jolly Sailor in Dalton and the Flower Pot in Mirfield.
Mr Wigham said a survey for the company showed that the price of drinks came seventh in the 10 top factors influencing customers’ decisions to visit a particular pub.
He said: “Price is important, but it is not the most important. Things like providing clean toilets and a friendly atmosphere were regarded as more important.
“We want to see the pub remain as a part of the local community.”