Will 2009 be a better year for pubs?

By John Grogan

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cask ale European union European court of justice

Grogan: pubs need help
Grogan: pubs need help
Will 2009 be the year that pubs at last gain a place at the centre of the political agenda like that other great British institution, the post office, asks John Grogan.

Will 2009 be the year that pubs at last gain a place at the centre of the political agenda like that other great British institution, the post office?

Will there finally be a backlash on beer tax to mirror the various revolts we have seen on petrol tax? Will we lose another 2,000 pubs or will the pace of closure quicken as recession bites with as many as 5,000 licensed premises closing?

Above all, the pub trade needs to articulate a positive agenda for change. In the run-up to the general election the political parties may be surprisingly responsive.

Indeed, the shadow cabinet has reportedly made the future of the pub one of its campaigns for the new year.

Moreover, in the words of the serenity prayer, the trade needs the wisdom to accept the things it cannot change, the courage to change the things it can and the wisdom to know the difference.

It is no good continuing to moan on about the smoking ban, which is now a fixture of British life and, if we are honest, an overwhelmingly popular one.

The industry has a tactical decision to make as regards its campaign on the level of alcohol taxation. In the event that Alistair Darling decided to abandon the alcohol duty escalator that has been set for the next three years (and this is a big ask given the state of the Government's finances) this would not in itself close the differential one penny between on and off-trade prices. A more radical approach is required.

The obverse of making off-trade beer more expensive is to make it more affordable in pubs. The proposal of having a lower rate of duty for draught beer — as in Canada and Australia — may be an idea whose time has come. Ministers will need suggestions as how it can be paid for. If cider duty was the same as beer, the Government could use the extra receipts of £285m to fund a 5p reduction in duty on draught beers to support community pubs.

Meanwhile, the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group will be examining the legal implications of this proposal with the European Commission as a priority.

In addition, 2009 must be the year when it is worth pushing for an extension of the rate relief scheme, which currently applies to some village pubs, to include all community pubs.

Finally, licensees will be taking a greater than usual interest in the summer of 2009 in the proceedings of the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Should the Court find that it is perfectly legal for licensees to show Greek TV coverage of Premier League football matches, there will be rejoicing in the streets!

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