Thorley Taverns has told The Times its most urgent problem is the struggle with utilities bills, with increases of 400% on previous contracts even after government assistance.

The 18-strong pub operator has just signed a £1.2m energy contract, up from its previous contract of £300,000. It recently sold the freehold of one of its pubs for £1.6m to cover costs.

Operations director Phil Thorley said the hospitality industry “just can’t live with these sorts of increases. We can’t just turn the heating down, we can’t turn the lights off. Our places have to be warm and inviting. Beers need to be cold. Food needs to be hot.

“We’re just a little pub company with 18 pubs in Kent and we don’t make that much money. We’ll try to make it work somehow. Our company been going 50 years.”

Thorley further said business rates need a reform to remove the advantage enjoyed by Amazon and other online retailers, as well as levelling the playing field on VAT.

“Where I am in Kent, I’m closer to Calais than Canterbury and yet across the water they pay 10 per cent on their hotels and hospitality and I pay 20 per cent. We’re getting kicked every which way but loose.”

More than a third of businesses in the industry are at risk due to inflationary pressures and declining consumer confidence.