Very serious challenges are currently facing the pub and beer industry, as highlighted by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). Pubs are a cherished British institution and are often at the heart of our community life. Indeed, CAMRA has estimated that around 30 pubs close every week in the UK and this loss is not only felt by local communities but by our economy as a whole in terms of jobs, trade and tax revenues.
Following pressure from CAMRA and others, in the March 2015 Budget the Chancellor announced that beer duty would be cut by 1p per pint. However, it should not be forgotten that the Coalition Government’s decision to increase VAT to 20% added a considerable amount to the price of a pint. CAMRA is now calling for a further cut in beer duty in the 2016 Budget, which is scheduled to take place on Wednesday March 16.
It is of course important that the Government carefully consider the evidence presented by organisations such as CAMRA ahead of the budget, and explain the reasons behind their decisions.
The Government have done far too little to support community pubs over the last five years.
The unfair and unbalanced relationship that can exist between large pub companies (pubcos) and their tenants and licensees is one of the crucial factors in the recent decline of the pub industry. The Government have been slow to introduce the proper statutory code that is needed to better regulate the industry. A Government consultation on a statutory code closed on January 18 and I will follow its outcome closely.
The Coalition Government’s changes to the planning system allowed pubs to be demolished or changed to other uses – including betting shops and supermarkets – without the need for planning permission. Last year the Coalition Government opposed a “Save the Pubs” amendment to their Infrastructure Bill that would have required developers to seek planning permission before engaging in any proposed demolition of or change of use to pubs. Communities should have a greater say over local amenities and pubs should have proper protection in the planning system.
I will work with my colleagues in Parliament to continue to urge the Government to do more to support community pubs.