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Tough year for Norwich publicans, but 2013 offers some encouragement

Roger Cawdron talking to David Bale at the Ribs of Beef.
Photo: Bill Smith

Roger Cawdron talking to David Bale at the Ribs of Beef. Photo: Bill Smith

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It has been a hard year for Norwich publicans, but 2013 could offer some encouragement. Love Your Local reporter David Bale spoke to landlords about 2012 and their hopes for the year ahead.

Pub landlords in Norwich have experienced another tough year, but the number of businesses still alive and well in the city has held up well.

Now struggling publicans are hoping that 2013 could offer some help if the controversial beer tax/duty escalator (BDE), which puts 2pc above inflation each year on the cost of a pint, is scrapped in the Budget.

Businesses have been lobbying hard for the move, which they claim would help save the great British pub, and city landlady Dawn Hopkins spoke at a mass rally near the Houses of Parliament last month calling for the tax to be axed.

Landlords are also looking forward to the long-awaited introduction of a minimum pricing of alcohol in supermarkets.

At present supermarkets can sell alcohol at much cheaper prices than pubs, and publicans claim minimum pricing would help them to better compete.

Roger Cawdron, landlord at the Ribs of Beef, in Wensum Street, is calling for the government to give the industry a break in 2013.

He said: “The government looks on pubs as a bit of a cash cow, and we never seem to get a break from the constant tax increases that are levied on us. This has resulted in the closure of about 16 pubs a week across the country, with the loss of jobs and revenue.

“I would like to see lower fuel taxes on diesel to lower transport costs and a VAT reduction on the hospitality industry. There are no more cuts we can make at the Ribs of Beef to save money other than getting rid of staff.”

Many landlords, Mr Cawdron included, spoke of a disappointing summer of trade for pubs, with the Olympics proving underwhelming.

“I think people just stayed in and watched the Olympic Games at home,” he said. “And with the bad weather the summer was a bit of a wash-out.”

It’s been a difficult year for the whole sector – pubs, bars, nightclubs and restaurants – Phil Cutter, landlord at the Murderers, in Timberhill, said.

“I think the recession has really bitten this year,” he said.

“I have spoken to a lot of landlords and there has been a massive downturn in trade since the Olympics. At the Murderers we are currently running at 8pc down on volume on last year, while it’s 15pc for some brewers.

“In a way in 2011 we were sheltered from the worst of the recession and it was a good year, and the first six months of this year were really good for us. But as soon as the summer came and the weather was poor, we saw a drop in people coming in.

“It was great for trade when the Olympic torch came to Norwich and the Lord Mayor’s procession was absolutely phenomenal, but at the moment it’s back to a scenario of either use pubs or risk losing them.”

He said publicans constantly had to come up with ways to encourage people back into pubs.

“You cannot rest on your laurels and just say that people will come back to pubs. Hopefully in 2013 the BDE will be scrapped. A lot of Norwich publicans including Dawn Hopkins have done a lot to lobby for that, and minimum pricing for alcohol in supermarkets will hopefully come in.

“As a publican you have to look at the longer-term picture.

“Norwich City of Ale event organisers meet again from this month, and the 2013 event – from May 23 to June 2 – should be bigger and better than the first two events, and Camra’s AGM will be held in Norwich this year.

“It’s all about trying to encourage people to come to Norwich so you have to expand what you have to offer. Hopefully, what we are doing will pay off and in about five years’ time, Norwich will be the real ale hub/ destination.”

Chris Higgins, landlord at the Trafford Arms, in Grove Road, agreed that 2012 had been tough for publicans. He said: “2012 has been hard, but not just for us; everybody in the retail sector has suffered. Thankfully, we have got fantastically loyal customers here.

“This year I’m looking for the BDE to be scrapped, the introduction of minimum pricing of alcohol in supermarkets, and for the chancellor to go a little easier on us in the budget. And also for the Canaries to finish in the top 10 in the Premiership.”

Sim Knight, landlady at the Hellesdon Bull, said: “The licensed trade has noticed a dip in everything, but for us it was not a bad year at all.

“We’re looking forward to minimum pricing coming in for alcohol at supermarkets, but are not sure if that will just affect stronger alcohol.

“People still support their locals and we have a good regular clientele here, as the Bull is a huge community pub, with so many different age groups.”

Despite many publicans struggling in 2012, one landlord, Paul Anderson-Cowles, showed that you can be successful.

He celebrated 40 years since the reopening of the Brick Kilns pub in Little Plumstead this month.

Amazingly, his predecessor, Philip Colk ran the pub for nearly 40 years as well, from 1931 until it closed in 1969.

As reported, Dawn Hopkins, who runs the Rose in Queens Road and the Kett’s Tavern in Kett’s Hill, was chosen to be the only publican to speak at a mass rally in London last month.

The rally, which followed a mass parliamentary lobby calling for MPs to support the pub industry, was organised by Camra’s Save Your Pint Campaign, which is calling for the controversial beer tax escalator to be scrapped.

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