Factions need united action

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The trade needs to show a united front if plans for a pro-pub campaign are to get off the ground. John Harrington reports from the first meeting of...

The trade needs to show a united front if plans for a pro-pub campaign are to get off the ground. John Harrington reports from the first meeting of MP Greg Mulholland's campaign group.

Trade lobbyists and campaigners must put their differences aside and campaign to save the British pub. That was the message from a lively meeting of industry leaders in Parliament last week, called by Liberal Democrat

MP Greg Mulholland, left, who is

calling for a national pro-pub "umbrella" campaign.

But getting the disparate factions to agree a course of action could prove tricky.

There were clear areas of agreement at the meeting: that cheap supermarket booze, duty hikes and a generally unsympathetic Government are the key problems. There was also support for getting the public on-side to fight for their local. However, there were different views on the best action to take.

Dennis Griffiths, licensee and vicepresident of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations (FLVA), slated the "immoral" practice of selling alcohol below cost price and said: "We have to change laws in this country to combat the supermarkets". Minimum pricing was one idea mooted.

But British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) director of pubs and leisure Martin Rawlings said the focus should be on "quick wins", such as persuading Government to halt the duty escalator and increasing the maximum stake on AWP machines. Increasing rate relief is another area, he said.

"The trade is in trouble now," Rawlings stressed. "Some of the solutions are two to three years down the track. Minimum pricing is going to take a long time to get through."

He added: "We shouldn't look at legislative solutions because Government always gets things wrong.

I think politicians are incapable of deregulation."

All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group secretary Robert Humphreys said focusing squarely on supermarkets may not be a popular choice. "It's not an obvious vote-winner to ask customers to vote for higher prices in supermarkets." Instead, he suggested campaigning under a slogan like "pubs — use them or lose them".

BII chief executive John Mc-Namara pointed to the work of

campaigns such as the MA's Responsible Drinks Retailing and said: "These sorts of campaigns are here and we need to use them. The question is how to get them across to the general public."

Guild of Master Victuallers member Bill Sharp said the focus should be on showing the public that rising costs are making pubs "unviable" — a message that could unite the whole trade.

"These are the things that will affect us whether we are in a leased, tenanted, freehouse or managed pub. But when you talk about rising costs to customers they say we just stick the prices up."

Members of the anti-pubco Fair Pint campaign expressed their views about where they believe the problems lies. "In our experience, it's mainly pubco pubs closing at the rate of four per day," said licensee Mike Bell, founder of the Freedom for Pubs Association. "We can blame the smoking ban and duty, but when times were hard in the past pubs always stayed open because rents moved with the market."

But fellow licenseee and Fair Pint campaigner Mark Dodds suggested the group was prepared to put its anti-pubco agenda to one side for the greater good. "We are fully behind anything that sustains the quality pub. Our specific beef is with pubcos but that's a separate issue here."

Either way, there was general feeling that the major pubcos will need to get involved, either directly or through funding.

"I think we need to bring pubcos around the table," said Anthony Miller, Pub is the Hub regional advisory group chairman for the southeast. "If we want funding that's one place we could get it."

With several groups unhappy at the conduct of pub companies, could co-operation in a pubco-funded

campaign be possible? Humphreys said areas of clear disagreement like this must be left "outside the room". "There are too many differences of opinion being expressed for a single bandwagon to get going quite yet," he said.

Mulholland, who plans to host

further meetings to discuss details, said: "It's perfectly possible for organisations with slightly different aims to come together under one umbrella.

"The key thing is the campaign

has to be able to work together. It's very easy for authorities to pick

people off when they are divided."

His own vision is for a campaign to raise consumer awareness of the problems, involving posters, petitions and word-of-mouth — and get punters lobbying for their local.

"That hasn't been done as much as it can. People in pubs are very vocal. They will be very happy to get involved in lobbying."

He added: "If we don't take the opportunity to provide a strong voice for pubs we will regret it."

Trade groups that attended:

n All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group

n BII

n British Beer & Pub Association

n Campaign for Real Ale

n Fair Pint/Freedom for Pubs Association

n Federation of Licensed Victuallers Associations

n Guild of Master Victuallers

n Pub is the Hub

n Society of Independent Brewers

Related topics: Legislation

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