JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin has accused the Government of driving drinkers out of pubs through a combination of continual price hikes and excessive ID checking.
He told delegates at a Best Bar None (BBN) event in central London yesterday that he had serious concerns for the future of pubs as a result of tax and legislation burdens heaped on the trade by Government.
"Pubs won't exist as they exist now if the level of tax carries on as it is now," he told the Is Big Society a Partnership? conference at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre.
"In Britain we're quite capable of buggering up good industries. It's as if pubs have become the whipping boy."
He said high prices in the on-trade push people to the supermarkets and young over-18s are "sick of getting ID'd" all the time.
However, he praised the "sheer graft" of schemes such as pubwatch and BBN as "the things that do work". "They can't solve all the social problems, but they can vastly improve them," he added.
Late night levy
Conversely, other speakers expressed concern that current legislation does not go far enough and the UK's leading policeman on licensing gave his support to the late-night levy.
ACPO leader and Durham Constabulary chief constable Jon Stoddart told delegates that it is "proportionate and appropriate" for venues to pay the late-night levy and that the police had "shouldered the burden" for too long.
"It won't be popular with the on-trade, but it could be significant in moderating people's behaviour," he said.
He also argued for more control over pricing and hit back at a trade chief's claim that cheap alcohol did not directly lead to alcohol-related violence.
Bacardi Brown Forman Brands' external affairs director Bruce Ray said: "To my knowledge there is no evidence that would indicate that price and alcohol-related harm are connected.
"There is not a silver bullet to solve all solutions, but as a premium drinks manufacturer we do not want to see brands sold at 12p a unit."
Below cost ban
Stoddart accused Ray of being "in denial" and counter-claimed that there is empirical evidence pointing towards the link. He also said that the Government's ban on below-cost sales was "clearly not going to make any difference whatsoever".
Molson Coors' director of public affairs Scott Wilson said: "While we welcome the Government's intent around a ban on below-cost selling, tax is not a proxy for cost and could legitimise driving prices lower than they are today."
Keynote speaker David Oliver, head of drugs and alcohol at the Home Office also raised concerns that current legislation does "not go far enough". He added that he did not want the late-night levy to "interfere" with good practice.