Neil Robertson: We must talk more about open pubs than closed ones

Related tags Antisocial personality disorder Social responsibility Occupational safety and health

While I find much to agree with Pete on in his well-written article, I do read things slightly differently. Politicians are relentlessly pragmatic,...

While I find much to agree with Pete on in his well-written article, I do read things slightly differently.

Politicians are relentlessly pragmatic, it's true, and do inevitably seek to 'please the people' (or those who influence the people). But this is less a randomly anti-pub approach than Pete suggests. The attacks are on predictable lines; we need to get better at seeing them coming and getting our retaliation in first. We also need to get better at working with the grain of what they are trying to do.

The coalition is working hard to deliver what is in its agreement. This inevitably meant giving up on some of the party manifesto commitments, but we needed a government, so we needed some compromises. I can live with this kind of pragmatism if it settles markets.

So what of the coalition agreement? The 'rebalancing of licensing', is in there clear as day, motivated by Daily Mail headlines for sure. Although, the new bill will not in fact do much good, it doesn't change the fact that the British public are sick of antisocial behaviour. Nor can we escape the fact that those who cause it have sometimes been drinking beer in pubs. It's easy to be critical of others here (and we should) but saying draught beer is good for you, or that it's all the fault of the supermarkets, makes us look dangerously out of touch.

Indeed, we doubly shoot ourselves in the foot, because many in the industry put a lot of time and effort into social responsibility in their pubs/clubs or as part of wider schemes such as Best Bar None. The evidence for their success is mounting, as is our understanding of the costs of social responsibility. So, point one, let's use this evidence and energy to put the 'antisocial' debate onto a less anti-pub footing.

There is plenty for pubs in the rest of the coalition agreement if we look for it, and then grab it. Firstly jobs. Remember, jobs are 'the people's' biggest worry. Pubs/clubs and their suppliers employ lots of people, often unskilled, often in areas lacking other opportunity. Point two then, let's make the jobs agenda ours. We must talk more about open pubs (and what they contribute economically) than closed ones.

Point three is deregulation. We can and should make this agenda work harder for us. I've been active on behalf of the BII and the wider industry on this and we've made early progress. We all have much to gain from helping the government come up with ways to make things like health and safety, and employment law less burdensome.

Point four is, of course, community activism/the Big Society. This is pub-friendly and many have been quick to show what we can do (for example, Pub is the Hub). But let's be realistic. There's not much money, or savings, to be had here. Instead, PR is the prize. And Pete's article shows we need that.

So thanks Pete for a good piece, but cheer up! There's plenty to play for in 2011 and beyond. And lets support those, like Keith Knowles, managing director of Beds & Bars, who are encouraging us to play more like a team.

Neil Robertson is chief executive of the BII

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