Legislation such as the smoking ban and increasing alcohol duty have made many local British pubs unsustainable – and the government's proposed regulations are insufficient to save them, writes UKIP MEP Paul Nuttall on PSEurope.
•British government proposals being debated tomorrow to limit the power of pub companies – pubcos – will not save the local boozer. I spearhead the UK Independence party's ongoing Save The Pub campaign and believe that as long as so called lifestyle laws continue to encroach on freedoms in our daily lives, the local pub cannot be saved.
The introduction of an independent adjudicator and statutory code to regulate big pub corporations is being debated in parliament and is designed to increase the freedoms of pub landlords to buy alcohol on the free market rather than pay the prices demanded by large pub owning companies. The idea is to give landlords back greater power over the running of their businesses while also preventing big chains from squeezing out smaller drinking establishments. However, successive legislation over the years, such as the smoking ban and increasing alcohol duty, has simply made many local pubs unsustainable.
For years UKIP has been saying that more needs to be done to save the great British pub. They took a hard hit when the smoking ban was introduced. In Greater London alone, over 700 pubs have closed since the introduction of the smoking ban. We have seen tax on alcohol continue to rise year on year. Proposals to introduce a zero legal drink drive limit would also hammer many country pubs which rely on patrons driving out to them in order to trade.
It has now got to the stage where as many as four pubs are closing down a day, as they are unable to compete with cheap supermarket alcohol prices while they struggle with the beer duty escalator alongside increasing rents and operational costs. A third of the price of every pint is now tax, with excise duty on beer having increased by 42 per cent since 2008.
Once these pubs shut down they rarely reopen. The local has been at the centre of communities for decades, but now we are seeing more and more city centre perpendicular drinking establishments or big chain pubs with prescriptive homogenised atmospheres taking over. They simply cannot provide the same role in the community that an independent local pub could nor replace the special place it occupied in the hearts of regular punters.
The local pub is a great British tradition. The very first pubs were actually attached to the church in feudal times and operated as a meeting place for the whole community. Even today local pubs bring neighbours together and see people socialising across the generations and classes. The atmosphere is focused on enabling people to spend quality time together, not designed to encourage drinking as much alcohol as possible while loud music prevents proper conversation.
The local pub is often a safe environment in which the entire family feel comfortable and is in many respects a British institution. But if the government continues to introduce more and more of these interfering lifestyle laws, telling us how to live, taxing drinking and smoking, it will not make a difference whether the costs of rents for pubs is brought down or whether a regulator is overseeing pubco-tenant relationships. People will still opt to stay at home with booze bought from a supermarket as the cheapest and easiest option.
Paul Nuttall is a member of the European Parliament and deputy leader of the UK Independence Party