Not for over a decade has the pub industry faced as potentially challenging a year ahead as this one. Or as difficult a one to call. In fact, 2003 could be a very good year for the trade, or it could be very bad. Why the ambivalence? Well, consumer confidence is poised precariously and depending on the housing market, April's tax rises and a possible Gulf war may not be in evidence for much longer this year. Set against that, our economy is forecast to grow by 2.3% this year, one of the highest growth rates in the world. And with an American presidential election in 2004, the US economy is set to be stoked in a way that traditionally benefits us too, so there may well be an even healthier upside. As long as house prices don't collapse and no-one has yet demonstrated there's anything inevitable about that then there's no reason why customers shouldn't still see the inside of their favourite pub as often as they've done over the past few years. Will they spend as much? Again, that's economy related and beyond our control, so no predictions there though it's worth remembering if money gets tighter, eaters-out may see better value in pubs than restaurants. But what will play an equally big role in determining spending patterns is within the pub trade's control and that is Quality, with a capital Q. This is what 2003 should really be all about. Get this right in our beer, our service, our ambience and as the best landlords know already, you will flourish and thrive. It provides the competitive edge that will be essential in what's sure to be a highly competitive year. Get it wrong, as the rest know, and the year will be spent miserably waged in unequal battle with your landlord, bank manager and probably your staff and partner as well. On the Quality front, some encouraging signs are emerging. This looks to be the year that beer at last gets its act together.A host of well meaning but disparateinitiatives are coming together under the leadership of the British Beer & Pub Association though it'll take more than 12 months to convince drinkers they can always trust their pint. Licensing is the other issue that could make or break the year. So many crucial details are yet to be resolved, and there truly is all to play for in the next few months.