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Exclusive interview

Help pubs help themselves: PMA interview with shadow pubs minister Toby Perkins

By Adam Pescod , 13-Dec-2012
Last updated on 13-Dec-2012 at 08:44 GMT2012-12-13T08:44:14Z

Perkins: passionate about the economic and social importance of pubs

Perkins: passionate about the economic and social importance of pubs

Shadow pubs minister Toby Perkins is aware of the challenges facing the trade. However, he is confident that, should Labour get back into power at the next election, his party will do all it can to make life easier for licensees. Adam Pescod caught up with the Chesterfield MP to find out what he has to offer and ascertain his views on the key issues

Q: Where does your passion for pubs come from?

It’s from the recognition of pubs’ economic importance in terms of jobs and growth, a recognition of the role of the pub as the heart of the community, and also from the vibrancy our nightlife offers as a tourist attraction.}
Q: What do you hope to achieve by teaming up with the GMB ?

People who go and run a pub are setting up their own business — they are surrounded by their own community, but it is not an environment that has historically lent itself to collective action.
So it is important that publicans, particularly publicans in a pubco pub, make sure they join the union so that they are able to communicate what is happening and really have a sense of being supported, which a lot of them feel they don’t have at the moment.
Q: Is a review of the beer duty escalator an issue you will be putting to the Treasury if Labour gets into Government in 2015?

Absolutely. We recognise the link that exists between the amount of taxation on alcohol and the success of the pub trade and we are going to do everything we can to minimise that burden, but you can also make a strong argument for reducing fuel duty and for reducing VAT on the construction industry.  There are lots of different taxation pressures and challenges, but I recognise that is a really important one and we are definitely going to make that case.
Q: Do you support the Government’s proposal to introduce a minimum price for alcohol of 45p per unit?

I think that if you were to ask how many pubs are selling beer for less than 90p, you would probably find none. I think that it is at the right sort of level for targeting irresponsible retailing practices. I wouldn’t like to see it priced considerably higher than that, nor do I think that it would be particularly effective if it was considerably less than that.
Q: Do you think minimum pricing could penalise responsible drinkers?

There is an extent to which it will, but there isn’t that much alcohol sold at less than 45p per unit anyway. I don’t think that it will hugely impact on the majority of us, but it is a slightly blunt instrument and I recognise that.
Q: Do you believe that the price of alcohol is the key driver of binge drinking?

There is a lot of evidence in my constituency of people arriving in town at night already drunk, and they haven’t been in a pub. So I think that price has an implication there, but it is also about personal responsibility, it is also about the culture that being completely out of your head is a good thing and something to aspire to, and I think that is a problem as well. But for a Government to change a culture is always a difficult thing to achieve, and there has to be personal freedom.
Q: Will you be raising the issue of test purchasing in Parliament? (Perkins recently accused trading standards officers in his constituency of trying to “trick” licensees)

Let us see what the council and police response is. I support the police in trying to crack down on irresponsible practice, but I think you just have to get that balance right. If the strategy changes to one of trying to catch out publicans who are sloppy, who are not taking any steps to prevent underage drinking, then I support that. But if what it appears to be is people going out of their way to trick people, and if the implications for the pub are very serious off the back of that sort of practice, then that seems to be going away from what we want trading standards to do.
Q: Can you assure publicans that they can be optimistic about a future Labour Government?

Yes, absolutely. If any Government comes into power in 2015 and the problems that exist now are still there, I will be pushing very strongly that we take the action that we have criticised this Government for not taking.