Trade fears Tory plans will hit pubs

By John Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Conservative party Pubs Community pubs Conservatism Drinking culture Binge drinking

Bish: licensing regime is too lax on off-trade
Bish: licensing regime is too lax on off-trade
Trade chiefs fear the Conservative Party's hard-line plans for alcohol and licensing will mean more pub closures and penalise responsible operators....

Trade chiefs fear the Conservative Party's hard-line plans for alcohol and licensing will mean more pub closures and penalise responsible operators.

However, the Tory plan to ban below-cost alcohol sales has been welcomed.

Tory plans, announced at their conference today, would see late-night pubs pay more for licences and give residents the power to veto new licences. Raising tax on high-strength drinks is also proposed.

Mark Hastings, British Beer and Pub Association director of communications, said: "The Conservative Party needs to start seeing social drinking in pubs as part of the solution to binge drinking, rather than part of the problem.

"With 50 pubs closing per week the Conservatives should appreciate that any increase in regulation, red tape and tax will put community pubs under considerable further pressure leading to more closures and job losses - something I am sure they would want to avoid.

"At the same time the clear signal that they intend to use existing laws with greater vigour to crack down on problem people and premises is welcome news to the industry."

Association of Licensed Multipe Retailers chief executive Nick Bish said: "Unfettered and deregulated access to bargain booze sold at pocket money prices through supermarkets and corner shops is undoubtedly fuelling consumption and we have been urging politicians to take action on this issue since it was first identified by the Competition Commission in 2006.

"The licensing regime for the off-trade is undoubtedly too lax. The 2003 Licensing Act swept away all restrictions on the time at which alcohol may be sold and its location in the store.

"As a result shoppers literally fall over displays of very cheap alcohol and drinking at home has replaced drinking in a well-regulated licensed environment. A ban on below cost selling will go some way to addressing this."

He expressed concern, however, that the Party's proposals to tear up the Licensing Act may have unforeseen consequences for pubs.

"The Tory Party must take care that in their rush to talk tough they do not inadvertently damage the thousands of community pubs they profess to want to save.

"We are disappointed that the proposals outlined today have not been discussed with affected businesses. With over 50 pubs closing a week, the trade can ill-afford another upheaval in the regulatory regime.

"The 2003 Act took two years to introduce and imposed significant legal and administrative costs on individual pubs. We want gradual evolution not further revolution."

Responding to the specific proposal that late night businesses should contribute more to the costs of policing, he said: "Town centre operators already pay more for their licence and these are the very businesses which the Tories appear to want to target.

"A top-up levy based on trading time rather than location appears to run the risk of penalising responsible operators - for example a community pub providing food and trading occasionally until 1am.

"Late night operators are already investing through Business Improvement Districts and Best Bar None schemes to tackle the problems which arise in city centre locations. Trading time is not a good indicator of social responsibility.

"Lets work together to develop sensible, workable and above all consistent proposals rather than soundbite politics".

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