The next government should do more to speed new projects through planning and create a fairer business rates system if it wants to help the pub industry to grow.
That's the message from publicans speaking at the Pub 15 show at London's Kensington Olympia earlier today when asked what they would like to see from a new government following the May general election.
Brian Whiting, managing director of pub group Whiting & Hammond, said he was sceptical of what the government's planned review of business rates later this year would mean for pubs.
In the meantime, however, he said that it seemed that rates were rising dramatically.
"I don't know if someone rang a bell and said ‘go for it' before this review comes in but they are all going up dramatically," he said.
"We are getting battered right across our seven sites with rates. I have got a site that had a rateable value of £13,000 which was revalued at £130,000. We hadn't made it any bigger, it was the same size. We thought we had a result getting it down to £90,000. So rating is a big problem. Why should we be penalised on turnover?"
Dan Brod, co-owner of the Beckford Arms and the Talbot Inn, agreed. "It is this bizarre grey area that isn't governed by anything. It is ridiculous," he said.
The rates paid by English businesses are the highest of any European Union country and can be a business's biggest expense after wages and rent.
Rates are based on the rental value of the property a company uses and valuations are linked to property prices in 2008. In December last year, Chancellor George Osborne announced a full "structural review" of the business rates system in England.
Meanwhile, Geronimo Inns managing director Ed Turner (pictured) said he would like to see the planning system streamlined, complaining that it often took far too long for plans for new pubs or changes to existing pubs to be approved.
"I have got one pub that has been in pre-planning for seven months. We have had another in Young's where it has taken a year to get the planning and actually where we do commit to buying these places we do want to commit to creating jobs and paying taxes. If they could make it easier for us to get things going quicker then it would help us as business people as well. It only seems to be getting worse at the moment," he said.
Summing up the points made, Kate Nicholls, chief executive of trade association the ALMR, who was chairing the session, said: "We have solved one of the problems with perceptions of pubs at the top, and the government accepts that pubs are valuable and contribute to UK plc, but it doesn't always filter down onto the ground when it comes to enforcement, whether that is a planning issue, or whether it is a local environmental health officer walking in and doing a licensing inspection at your busiest time.
"Those decisions don't seem to have changed any and that is where I think the next challenge is for us as a national trade body working to get that through because they are all supposed to be working with regard to your economic growth. So the key thing we want our politicians to do is to leave us alone, create the conditions for growth and let us get on with it."