Hitchin activist’s pub speech helps shape Liberal Democrat business rate policy

Hitchin Lib Dem activist Sam Collins behind the bar of Bournemouth's Goat and Tricycle pub with part

Hitchin Lib Dem activist Sam Collins behind the bar of Bournemouth's Goat and Tricycle pub with party leader Sir Vince Cable. Picture: Courtesy of Sam Collins - Credit: Archant

A speech about Hitchin’s pubs at the Liberal Democrats’ national conference has helped bring about a change in the party’s policy regarding business rates.

Speaking yesterday morning at the party’s annual event in Bournemouth, Sam Collins – a Lib Dem activist from Hitchin – highlighted examples from his own town while arguing in favour of a cap on business rate increases for independent firms like pubs and shops.

Sam, who was making his first conference speech, started by reeling off a list of Hitchin pubs that have closed over the past few years.

He said: “The Sailor Boy, The Bedford Arms, The Sir John Barleycorn, The Nightingale, The Red Hart and The Radcliffe – it’s a great pub crawl, right?

“No. It’s a requiem for Hitchin’s pubs.

Hitchin Lib Dem member Sam Collins speaks about his town's pubs at the party conference in Bournemou

Hitchin Lib Dem member Sam Collins speaks about his town's pubs at the party conference in Bournemouth. Picture: Courtesy of Sam Collins - Credit: Archant


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“Pubs are the heart, the soul, of the British community – and that heart and soul is being ripped out by an unfair rate system.”

Sam said rate increases are “destroying” all sorts of small businesses across the UK, including retro clothes shop Rosita Lollipop in Hitchin’s Paynes Park – which he said was “fighting to keep going”.

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Business rates are linked to how property prices rise and fall, and Sam and others at the conference criticised them for not taking into account businesses’ actual profitability or success.

Sam’s speech contributed to the Lib Dems passing a motion in favour of a so-called “pubs cap”, which would limit business rate rises on pubs, restaurants and cafés to a maximum of 12.5 per cent.

Lib Dems from Hitchin, Letchworth, Stevenage, Knebworth and other parts of Herts with party Sir Vinc

Lib Dems from Hitchin, Letchworth, Stevenage, Knebworth and other parts of Herts with party Sir Vince Cable behind the Goat and Tricycle pub bar in Bournemouth. Picture: Courtesy of Sam Collins - Credit: Archant

Speaking to the Comet afterwards, Sam said several people had told him his list of Hitchin pubs had really brought home to them the scale of the problem.

He said: “To be able to rattle off that many pubs which have shut in the last two or three years in a single town is clearly a sign that something is very wrong.

“I know a couple of the pubs I listed like The Red Hart and The Radcliffe are set to reopen, which is fantastic, and I’m really excited about the plans for both – but the Rusty Gun for example, just out of town near St Ippolyts, has a planning application in to be turned into housing. It’s a similar story in Knebworth with The Station.

“This problem is not going away and it needs more than words, it needs action.”

After the motion was passed, Sam and other Herts activists headed to a pub where they were joined by party leader Sir Vince Cable – who declared that he wanted the Lib Dems to be seen as the party of business.

Sir Vince said: “I want our party to be pro-business and pro-enterprise. British business is in desperate need of a champion and we will be that champion – not for the sake of it, but because Britain succeeds when they succeed.

“Growing numbers have given up on the Conservative Party, because they know it has abandoned British business.”

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