Norfolk pub trade in danger - warning

The Norfolk pub trade could be hit hard if suspected government plans to implement the biggest-ever tax increase on beer seen in a single year come into fruition.

George Osborne is expected to announce duty increases in the budget in March which could add more than five pence to the price of the average pub pint.

The rises are causing concerns for pub owners in the region described by Camra's Good Beer Guide editor, Robert Protz, as 'one of the best places in the entire country for drinking good beer'.

Norwich has more than 250 pubs, although this is a significantly reduced number from the days when the city was famous for having 'a pub for every day of the year'.

Phil Cutter, right, landlord of the Murderer's Arms on Timberhill, Norwich, said the prospect is 'unacceptable, we've already had to absorb a VAT increase.

'The economy is in such a state that we had to accept it. But a further increase would be something that we just couldn't afford; we would have no choice put to pass it on to the customer. It's the rural pubs which I fear will suffer the most, I'd like to see beer prices frozen and supermarkets taxed,' he said.

The Garden House pub, in Pembroke Road, Norwich, is one pub that has been forced to invest in other means of attracting customers.

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Landlord James Linder said: 'We've had to rely on other angles for the future such as investing in providing quality food and a nice garden area. The super-markets are pumping out cheap booze and I just can't compete.

'If you consider that you can buy a four-pack of beer for the same price as a pint these days you can see how unfair it is on the pubs to have to deal with further tax increases.

'The future of the local pub trade is in danger.'

The Garden House is a 'tied' house, meaning that he has to go through a company to purchase his barrels, accepting the price they give him. Free houses and chain pubs are mostly free to trade with anyone, and often don't have to pay as much as tied pubs for the beer.

The Norfolk region also has over 40 breweries, and with the British Beer and Pub Association reporting around 40 pubs closing each week a vital part of the city's economy is in danger.

The Fat Cat pub at 49 West End Street Norwich is a two time winner of the CAMRA National Pub of the Year Award. Landlord and brewery owner Colin Keatley said of the possible increase: 'I can't see that it will happen, the pub industry has been near desecrated already.

'It's impossible to see how they could put it up any more, it would destroy the industry. Financially that wouldn't do the government any favours.'

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