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One size fits all approach is killing our community pubs

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Published date:  31 Mar 2009

Community pubs are in danger unless Government takes urgent action to support them, according to a new report published by the Institute for Public Policy Research.

Community pubs are in danger unless Government takes urgent action to support them, according to a new report  published by the Institute for Public Policy Research.

The report, which assesses the social value of community pubs, highlights that with 39 pubs closing every week, and closure rates accelerating in the last two years, urgent action is needed to prevent community pubs from disappearing altogether. This will require a radical change in Government policy as well changes to way the pub trade operates.

It argues that instead of punishing them, the Government should reward and incentivise pubs that play a positive role in their local community. It says that current government policies on pubs contain two major flaws:

  • They are far too indiscriminate: all licensed premises have to carry the burden of regulation and increased taxation, but smaller community pubs that cause so few problems of crime and disorder are least able to take on these additional costs.
  • Policy fails to recognise the important community functions that many pubs perform. They are more than just businesses and pub closures can have a serious impact on the quality of local community life.

The report found that pubs inject an average £80,000 into their local economy each year adding more value than beer sold through shops and supermarkets, because of the jobs they generate. They are also proven to provide a controlled environment for socially responsible drinking.

ippr’s report found that pub closures have a serious impact on community life because of the role pubs play in strengthening local social networks, as well as facilitating many local services, events and activities which contribute to local life. These can include: hosting a range of important public services such as running post offices, and general stores; and providing a place for local charities, sports clubs and civic groups to host meetings and activities.

Rick Muir, Senior Research Fellow, ippr said:
"Government must stop using a one size fits all approach to licensed premises which is killing off our community pubs. Instead responsible well-run community pubs should be encouraged and supported.

"ippr research shows community pubs aren’t just places to drink but also places where people meet their neighbours; where local clubs hold meetings and events; and which support many important local services such as village post offices and general stores."

Mike Benner, Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)’s Chief Executive said,
“We are delighted to be associated with this excellent groundbreaking project. Britain’s community pubs are facing unprecedented threats and communities across the land are losing this unique and essential amenity at a frightening rate.

“The Government needs to recognise the benefit well-run community pubs bring to society and reward those that deliver genuine community benefit. A new policy framework is required urgently; not only to support existing pub businesses but to promote pubs as social enterprises and this report lays the foundations for Government action.”

Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern said:
“Community pubs perform a valuable social function and are frequently the cornerstone of rural life, providing safe and friendly drinking environments. Such pubs are often excellent examples of responsible drinks retailing. We fully support IPPR and CAMRA’s work to improve responsible retailing standards and sustain those businesses which sell alcohol responsibly.”

ippr recommends that to prevent further pub closures, new Government measures must be introduced to provide extra support for the majority of well run community pubs. These should include:

  • Business rate relief for ‘centres of community’: when pubs act as local community hubs they should be granted 50% mandatory business rate relief. The report sets out a method for measuring the social impact of a community pub which would determine which pubs would qualify
  • Eligibility for third sector finance: some pubs could apply to become ‘Community Interest Companies’ and apply for third sector grants and loans to develop the community-oriented side of their business
  • Planning law should be reformed to provide greater protection for community pubs. In the absence of nation-wide reform, local authorities should use the Sustainable Communities Act to help them safeguard pubs as important local amenities.
  • The relationship between the large pubcos and their tenants need to be reformed and a mandatory code of conduct should be introduced to ensure that rents are calculated in a transparent way and that there is an independent and accessible arbitration system to settle disputes between pubcos and their tenants

The report found that the main factors contributing to the rise in pub closures include: 

  • Competition from shops and supermarkets where alcohol is much cheaper, which has led to more people drinking at home
  • The current recession which has reduced pub incomes
  • Increases in tax on beer
  • The prices that some pub tenants have to pay the large pub companies for their beer
  • A fall in beer drinking and a growth in wine drinking
  • Increased regulation which small community pubs find the hardest to deal with

ippr’s report found the closure situation far worse in certain parts of the country – particularly Scotland, North West and West Midlands.

A survey by ippr shows that when asked, people rate pubs the highest of any location where they can meet and get together with others in their neighbourhood. 36 per cent of respondents said that pubs were important for this purpose, compared with 32 per cent saying other people’s houses, 20 per cent saying local cafes and restaurants and 15 per cent saying local shops. It also found that pubs are seen by the public as the most important social institution for promoting interactions between people from different walks of life.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • There should be no further increases in beer duty at a time of escalating pub closures. The government should abandon its current ‘beer duty escalator’.
  • A minimum price per unit of alcohol should be introduced to prevent irresponsible promotions and close the gap between the on and the off trades.
  • Existing tenants should be given the first option of buying their pub if it is put up for sale.
  • Pubs themselves need to diversify their offer and keep up with consumer tastes and demand
  • The pub trade needs to develop a stronger culture of training and professional development

Notes to editors

Pubs and Places: The social value of community pubs by Rick Muir, ippr, is available to purchase. The executive summary is free to download.