Measures to help pubs affected by the foot-and-mouth epidemic, including rate relief, benefits, tax flexibility and measures to encourage visitors back to the countryside, have been announced by the government.

Rate relief may go up to to 95% for businesses in areas of the "greatest need" and the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise have been asked to take a sympathetic view of businesses experiencing financial problems.

The chairman of the North West region of the British Institute of Innkeeping, Neil France, is setting up a support group for licensees who are suffering as a result of the disease.

He wants to borrow a room in a pub in Cumbria to hold a weekly support session where people can get advice or chat to someone who understands the pressure they are under.