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Interview: Community Pubs Minister Brandon Lewis vows to fight pub industry's corner

By Michelle Perrett , 15-Nov-2012
Last updated on 15-Nov-2012 at 10:56 GMT2012-11-15T10:56:09Z

Lewis: “In one sense it is an interesting role being community pubs minister and, as much as it is about looking at issues such as community pubs, it is also about championing the pub in Parliament

Lewis: “In one sense it is an interesting role being community pubs minister and, as much as it is about looking at issues such as community pubs, it is also about championing the pub in Parliament"

Community Pubs Minister Brandon Lewis knows what it's like to pull pints and has vowed to fight the industry's corner across Government.

When Lewis was given the role of community pubs minister he had to give up one of the joys of being an MP — his membership of the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group (APPBG).

“That is the irony. Fortunately, the chairman Andrew Griffiths is a very good friend. Therefore, he might invite me along on a regular basis,” he says.

As a member of the group Lewis was one of the MPs that got behind the bar as part of the ‘MPs in Pubs’ campaign aimed at getting licensees talking to their local politicians.

Lewis worked in a pub for more than a year in his younger days but was struck by how the sector had changed during his stint.

“It was very different to when I worked in a pub. It was about what bottle of beer someone wanted, whether they wanted wine or a spirit. There were more colours of vodka than I had ever seen.”

He has been in the role for nine weeks since the latest Government reshuffle and is well aware of the importance that his role could have on the sector.

“In one sense it is an interesting role being community pubs minister and, as much as it is about looking at issues such as community pubs, it is also about championing the pub in Parliament,” he adds.

“I am the Great Yarmouth MP and I think about small, rural pubs. But a community pub can also be in an urban area, where there are no open spaces and people go home and shut their door and don’t get to know their neighbours. If you have a pub in that community it can be just as important a part of being a small community hub as the rural pub.”

As part of his role to champion the industry, Lewis will be talking to a range of Government departments. He knows there is a “big job” to do in being the voice of the industry.

“One of the problems we have got in a number of areas is anti-social behaviour, which is fuelled by alcohol. Too many people are pre-loading, buying cheap booze in retail stores,” Lewis admits.

"Pubs don’t have that kind of problem, licensees don’t want that kind of problem. It’s not good for their business, it’s not good for their pub and it’s not what they are about. So the pub is a really good environment for people to spend their time in, as a community and a family. I think there is a job to be done in highlighting that and championing it.”

He was present at the beer-duty escalator debate in the House of Commons at the beginning of the month and, while he believes the Treasury made its position on the issue clear,  he will be fighting the case for the pub sector across all Government departments.

“What I am going to try to do is make the point that the pub industry has a really good story to tell and a really important part to play as a great industry for employing young people, for apprenticeships and for bringing communities together.”

He believes there are a range of initiatives already in place such as the ‘right to buy’ scheme that can help save community pubs.

“There is a job to do — not necessarily looking for the next big scheme — but actually we have got some that are good and are working. How do we make people aware of it? How do we deliver it and make sure it is actually happening on the ground?

“I am also the local government minister and I am in a good position to be saying to local parish councils, ‘look, this power is there, make sure if you have a pub in your community that you think is important you can get involved’.”

But it is not just about the Government and the wheels of Parliament saving community pubs.

Lewis believes that the local community and pub sector needs to take some responsibility, and he is not afraid to be critical of the industry.

“There is a job to do in reminding local people that if you want a local pub you need to use it. And the trade can’t just say why are people not coming out to the pub anymore and why are we no longer viable?

“It is about being a champion but also occasionally about being critical,” he says.

One of this first contacts has been with Pub is the Hub and he is already impressed at what the scheme can do to help local communities. He wants to spend more time getting to know the industry, from licensees to breweries to pubcos.

“I am really keen to have a dialogue with the industry and for it to have access to me. The industry can use me as a vessel to make its case across Government. I am really passionate about that.”

What is your message to publicans ?

“I would say to publicans — invite me. As I get out and about, I want to go and see and meet some of the people that make our communities the great places they are.

“So every time I am back in the House I can highlight a pub I have been to. I want people to feel they can come to me. I am happy to have a dialogue, so come and talk.”

Favourite pub

“In Great Yarmouth, we have a number of really good pubs. I judge them not just by their beer but their ham, egg and chips too.”

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