Staffordshire pub group Punch Taverns has launched a blistering attack on the Government – and said: “Lay off us.”
Giles Kendall, regional operational director for the West Midlands, accused New Labour of “persecution” after last week’s increase in alcohol duty in the Budget.
The onslaught followed a slump in pre-tax profits for the group for the 28 weeks to March 7, which saw earnings fall from £133million in 2008 to £82million.
Mr Kendall described the latest rise in duty in last week’s Budget as a “sharp-end” price increase.
“It seems to be a relentless upward drive in terms of costs – you kind of think that everything is against you. We feel that we are slightly persecuted.
“The pressure is on – pubs are closing at an unprecedented rate. But we are not going to disappear off the face of the Earth.”
Mr Kendall said Punch – the UK’s biggest pub group with 7,500 tenanted pubs and 800 managed houses – had suffered some pub closures.
“There have been a few in the West Midlands. There has been some hardship, but they are reopening.”
Burton-on-Trent-based Punch said rising tax and regulations were having a major impact on pubs and calls for reform of the beer tie represented a “non-productive distraction”.
MPs and lobby groups have argued that the tie, which requires licensees to buy products from one pub company, should be overhauled to prevent the rising tide of closures in the pub industry.
Announcing half-year results yesterday, Punch said pubs had been at the sharp end of Government measures for too long and that tax increases and legislative changes were “effectively putting some pubs out of business”.
In a statement, the group said: “In partnership with our licensees, we operate over 7,000 small businesses, employing over 50,000 people that make a significant contribution to the UK economy.
“We would urge the Government to realise that it must take action now to protect this cornerstone of our heritage. Pubs have for too long been at the sharp end of punitive government measures.
“Our licensees continue to face increased pressure 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 imposed by the Government is proving a significant burden for many pubs and is effectively putting some pubs out of business.”