'Deeply worrying': Welsh hospitality sector hit hardest post-Covid in UK, figures reveal

There are warnings the Welsh government plans to axe business rates subsidies could put many others out of business. Wales Reporter Rhys Williams explains

Pubs, bars and restaurants have closed at a faster rate in Wales since the pandemic than in any other part of the UK.

Figures obtained by ITV News show Wales lost nearly 17% of its licensed premises between March 2020 and December 2023, with a total of 1,158 closing their doors for good.

In England, 14% of licensed premises closed during the same period, while 12.6% closed in Scotland. The data is not available for Northern Ireland.

The figures from UKHospitality come before the Welsh government cuts business rates relief in April - a decision industry leaders are warning will lead to more closures.

The body has called for an extension to the business rates relief, but the Welsh government says the policy was designed to be a temporary measure and the money is needed to fund an increase in funding for the NHS.

The discount for retail, leisure and hospitality firms is set to be cut from 75% to 40% in the Welsh government's budget, which is due to be published next week. The rates relief for premises in England will remain at 75%.

The British Beer and Pub Association says the cut will cost Welsh pubs £3 million a year. It warns the pub closure rate was already twice as high in Wales in 2023 as it was in England, with a pub closing on average every week.

Further figures from UKHospitality also show the dire situation in Wales's two largest cities. The capital, Cardiff, has seen a drop of almost 10% in the amount of licensed premises since the pandemic, while Swansea has lost a staggering 25%.

Last year, BrewDog closed its doors in Swansea citing "increasing costs and spiralling energy bills", while the city's biggest nightclub announced it was closing earlier this month.

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David Chapman, Executive Director of UKHospitality Cymru, said: "These figures are deeply worrying.

"The stark numbers reflect the extent to which Welsh hospitality businesses have suffered since the start of the pandemic.

"They will be concerning for our venues and the thousands of livelihoods they support across Wales.

"We need immediate, increased business rates support, followed by fast-track reform, or more closures are inevitable.

"UKHospitality Cymru and businesses across Wales are imploring the government to change course on this issue, use the consequential payments awarded and restore the current level of 75% rates relief from April on.

"The survival of thousands of jobs and local pubs and restaurants really does depend on it."

Wales lost nearly 17% of its licensed premises between March 2020 and December 2023. Credit: ITV News

Finance minister Rebecca Evans told ITV News the Welsh government already had a "really generous system of support".

She said: "Of course I understand the frustrations and I know that business owners will understand the choices that we've got to make as a Welsh government.

"The NHS funding here in Wales will go up by 4% next year, but across the border in England it's less than 1%.

"So we've made decisions consciously to prioritise the NHS and public services through local government and I do think that's a decision most people will understand."

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