Wednesday, July 31, 2013
Describing Norfolk’s pubs as a quintessential part of the county’s past, present and future, pubs minister Brandon Lewis has told landlords he is on their side.
But at a meeting with the Great Yarmouth MP last night, east coast landlords spoke frankly about their fight for survival – blaming business rates and a constant battle against supermarket deals for “crippling” the industry.
The meeting at the Furzedown Hotel, on Yarmouth seafront, came the day after Mr Lewis included pubs in a government campaign to highlight the best of Britain.
Landlords told Mr Lewis that while scrapping the much maligned beer duty escalator and cutting a penny off a pint in this year’s Budget have helped, they still face a day-to-day struggle.
Philip Taylor of the Tramway in Gorleston – who was the first landlord in Norfolk to gain a 24-hour licence when running the Duke’s Head in High Street from 1999 to 2006 – said: “I am not thinking about five years time. I am thinking about the present, because I don’t know if I will still be running this pub in five years.”
Barry Austin, landlord of the St John’s Head in Yarmouth, a freehouse, said the “killer” was low cost alcohol sold in bulk by the major supermarkets.
“We get canned if we want to do a ‘drink as much as you like for £10’ or even our Happy Hours which are under pressure now, but you’re telling me that the supermarkets selling low cost crates of beer is not irresponsible? They are selling spirits at £12 a litre. This is where the binge drinking problem is coming from.”
Mr Lewis, who said it was refreshing to hear from “publicans on the frontline”, told the landlords he recognised the problem with supermarkets selling at low cost, but warned that to interfere would be crossing a line.
“We’re talking about crossing a rubicon if the government starts to tell private companies how to run their business and that’s a dangerous line to cross,” said Mr Lewis.
“There is an element of corporate responsibility here.
“I support minimum cost [the introduction of minimum price for a unit of alcohol sold by retailers as well as pubs] but it doesn’t necessarily stop low cost sales.”
When asked how local pubs were expected to cope with “unfair” business rates, Mr Lewis said the decision to delay re-evalution until 2015 was because doing it now would be a “nightmare” for many pub owners.
“I can’t say we are changing it or this is what will happen,” he said, “but I can say we are looking at it.”
Mr Lewis said that, by including local pubs in the coalition’s wider ‘GREAT Britain’ campaign – which highlights the best of the UK from business to sport and culture, more people will recognise their village watering hole or town centre local, whether it is an traditional inn or community-owned venture, as a vital part of the country’s economic, social and cultural landscape.
“They pack a powerful economic punch,” he said, adding that a successful pub could contribute around £100,000 to its local economy every year.
“In Britain we have known for hundreds of years just how valuable our locals are – not just a place for grabbing a pint but also to the economies and communities of those they serve. The Great British pub is recognised around the world as a quintessential part of British culture.
“But if we don’t use them we will lose them.”