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Gone for good? Virus crisis leaves our pubs on the brink

'They’re talking now about not reopening until May. What are we going to do until May?'

14 January, 2021 — By Harry Taylor

Paul Weller and Suggs, who was 60 yesterday, with Peggy Conlon at the Dublin Castle before the pandemic

A PUB landlord has said the damage to pubs in Camden may be irreparable, as the latest lockdown piles more pressure on beleaguered licensees.

Several who spoke to the New Journal said they feared for their futures, criticised the slow rollout of Covid-19 support grants from Camden Council and the government, and said some family-run pubs may shut.

Henry Conlon, landlord of the Dublin Castle in Parkway, who is also the chair of Camden and Inner London Licensees Association (CILLA) said there had been hold-ups in funds from government being paid out.

Ministers launched measures before Christmas, including a £1,000 support payment and Local Restrictions Support Grant which was worth £3,000 for closures in November and December, and £9,000 for the latest orders.

Many in Camden were unable to claim some of them due to high property prices in the area, as some initial grants in the pandemic were only available to venues with a rateable value below £51,000. And when later ones were announced, local and national government was slow to sign them off.

Dublin Castle landlord Henry Conlon is chair of the Camden Inner London Licensees Association

The owner of The Pineapple, in Leverton Street, said he was owed £30,000.

“At the beginning of the year Camden came out in the press saying they were great in supporting businesses with up to £25,000. They failed to state that 95 per cent of licensed premises in Camden are valued at above £51,000 and didn’t qualify,” said Mr Conlon.

“We’ve always been the cash cow. It has been very frustrating to see everyone else being looked after and not even a whisper of help towards us.”

The grants were previously criticised as “small beer” by Holborn and St Pancras MP Sir Keir Starmer, with some pubs paying thousands every week in costs while they are closed.

Mr Conlon added: “It might make the difference between the utility company cutting off the electricity and not. These landlords are self-employed, a lot of them don’t get anything, furlough or support schemes.”

Pat Logue, who has run the Sheephaven Bay pub in Mornington Street for 12 years, said the process was unnecessarily arduous. The publican has been a keen supporter of the New Journal’s hamper fund and hosted an annual fundraising quiz until the pandemic stopped it last year. He said they were asking for unnecessary details, including scans of bank statements.

He added: “They have them anyway you know, because they’re charging us normally for business rates, for council tax and they keep on coming back asking for more. It’s just crazy. We seem to be the ones that are forgotten, and once the money is sent to Camden, they decide if you’re eligible for it, which we are. “I think they’re starting to put so much red tape in the way, people will give up. They’re just making it so hard.”

Pat Logue at The Sheephaven Bay

Paul Davies, who runs the Tapping the Admiral and Lady Hamilton in Kentish Town as well as the Pineapple, said the inability to access funds had made it harder to get bank loans to help support his pubs.

“The first thing the banks will do is ask whether we’ve had the money, and they’ve got to,” he added. “Without that they’re less likely to loan us money”.

He likened trying to contact Camden Council to a “Kafka nightmare”. The pressures are being felt across venues. Some rents have been deferred, but pub tenants know they will have to pay up to 15 months’ rent in one go, while others have struck a deal to only pay part of the rent.

Tom Maloney, from the Oxford Arms in Camden High Street, said it had been the “worst financial year” his family have ever had.

The pub has been in The Maloney family for 53 years. Another said their pub was in £100,000 of debt to their landlord, which while currently deferred, will have to be paid at some point.

While furlough has meant pubs can retain staff, landlords are still liable for national insurance and pension contributions.

The Pineapple is one of Kentish Town’s most popular pubs

Aaron Carter, who runs the Golden Lion in Royal College Street, said the cost adds up to £1,000 a month for his six employees. He has only received his support grant for November, with other payments still pending.

He added: “Everyone thinks there’s no staff costs when people are on furlough. It’s something that’s been overlooked. It’s adding the costs to us.”

Mr Logue fears for the future of the pub in Mornington Street.

He said: “It’s getting that tight. They’re talking now about not reopening until May. What are we going to do until May? “They’ve got to give us something and make it easier to access.”

Mr Conlon, whose family have run the Dublin Castle since 1974, said: “Camden Town will never be the same ever again. I have a worry that landmark premises may just become another supermarket.”

Labour councillor Danny Beales, Camden’s business chief, said: “Businesses in Camden have been hit really hard by this crisis, and so our teams are working tirelessly to ensure payments are made as quickly as possible when we receive the nationally required evidence. We have not been funded to actually run such a large-scale grant distribution operation, but are committed to supporting businesses, so have redeployed a team of over 20 staff to support this process.

“The Christmas Support Payment may have been announced on December 1, however we did not receive the guidance or funding allocations from government until just before Christmas, which has inevitably delayed getting these payments issued. “We have written to all pub licensees to update them on the process for making payments.”

Cllr Beales also defended the level of detail required from applicants by Camden as the government has recently introduced new anti-fraud measures.

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