What I couldn’t understand about PUB17 last week was how gloomy everybody was, despite almost endless free beer and spirits. Every talk seemed to be about the challenges of competition, taxation, business rates, and Brexit. What is our government doing if good businesses are still struggling despite the surge of interest in beer, brewing and pubs? It’s insane!
One successful restauranteur pays the same business rates as a nearby Marks and Spencer despite taking one tenth of the income on smaller premises. He applied for planning permission to install new windows and was refused, though an adjacent Starbucks was granted permission for a far more extensive project. Community pubs have been deemed vital by the government but regulation prevents managers making the changes needed for them to become successful, so they still get turned into a Tesco. The party of the entrepreneur has become the party of big business and stifling regulation; it has no faith in grassroots enterprise despite the rhetoric when it initially came to power.
I know we have to court multinationals to underpin the economy and keep them on side, but that doesn’t mean we can’t offer the same breaks to small, independent business and essential community assets. It seems imagination, innovation and a strong work ethic are frowned upon, and they’d much rather you were replaced by a Costa. Misery.
The number of pubs closing each week is now down to 21 from 52 a short time ago. We have a Community Pubs Minister called Andrew Percy – the latest in a string of MPs to hold this role in a very short period. It seems a token post that provides very little and has not been responsible for the change in this statistic.
The only thing we can do is visit the pub. Think of the things you get there that you don’t get with a bottle or two from the supermarket.
You see the soft warm glow as you approach, merry people, curious dogs, the friendly server. You smell the food that immediately stimulates an almost insatiable hunger. You hear the chuckles, debate, the CAMRA member endlessly moaning through his beard, a superb music selection, and the cheers when someone drops a glass (never funny, should be banned).
More than any of the above you help a small local business, the people they employ, the brewers from whom they buy their beer, the charities they support. You help them pay an enormously unfair share of the £13bn tax bill. You keep the heart of a community living and breathing.
There are very few things more important than a pub. Seriously.