A word in your ear - May 3, 2012

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IT has been another depressing week in Britain’s embattled publand.

Hostelries are closing at a rate of 12 per week, with “crippling” beer taxes threatening the future of the industry, the Government has been warned.

Real ale campaign group Camra reckons eight pubs are closing every week in towns and four in rural areas.

More than 33,000 punters have now signed a petition calling for an end to above-inflation beer tax increases in response to a 42 per cent hike in duty since 2008.

Camra’s chief executive Mike Benner pleaded the mantra “pubs are so central to our society that whole communities can grow around a particular pub.”

But can they?

Are Britain’s pubs as relevant as they once were?

In my mind pubs are needed, of course they are. While a city is not a proper city without a cathedral, a village is not a village without a pub.

When me and the Put Upon Wife drive around the countryside we play that game Fantasy House Buy, and I’ve obviously trained her well, because she only says yes to properties within spitting distance of a hostelry. Well, what better way to enjoy a cordial evening of banter and beer than a walk to your local?

But something has inextricably changed in villages the land over.

I should know, before I chained myself to a desk at Gazette Towers I ran a village pub for two years.

I loved being the genial bar steward who got involved with the darts and pool teams, read the quiz on a Thursday night, and took great delight in transforming a failing business into a successful one.

But before I left I could sense an ill-wind blowing in, and I don’t mean the stench from the gents once they banned smoking.

Successive governments have basically screwed over a cash cow industry to the point where pubs are being slaughtered.

Around £1 on every pint goes to the tax man in beer duty and VAT.

Greedy ‘Pub Cos’ played their part, and the advent of cheap supermarket ale meant an increasing number of age-old ‘regulars’ were opting to sit at home in front of their 40in TVs with a couple of bottles of four quid Chilean.

Community Pubs Minister Bob Neill said his Government was taking “decisive action” to support community pubs by doubling small business rate relief. “On top of this,” he added, “we are cutting red tape on live music in pubs and are stopping unfair sales of alcohol below cost-price by supermarkets.”

I don’t truthfully think he believes that anymore than I do.

The demise of the British boozer is not a simplistic one, there are many factors in play.

But one way to help the survival of our local is to make the industry more competitive for publicans. Do that and you have a fighting chance of breathing life into these bastions of villages and local communities – and that is before it is too late.

n Sign Camra’s petition here: www.saveyourpint.co.uk