British Pub Week

The annual British Pub Week - which falls at the beginning of November - is a good opportunity to recognise the value of pubs in our local communities.

Last Saturday, I visited a great example of a local pub in our area - The Star in Petworth.  Speaking to the landlady there put the challenges facing the British pub into sharp relief.

Although the rate of pub closures has fallen, we are still seeing around 25 pubs close across the country every week.  West Sussex hasn't escaped the trend, and in every village pubs have either gone or are under pressure.

I feel that pubs are important social hubs in local communities, and while these are market decisions, we should do what we can to prevent the closures.

Landlords have expressed concerns over cheap supermarket alcohol and increasing overheads which make running their pubs unsustainable.  So the Government is working to ban the sale of alcohol below cost price, protecting local pubs from unfair loss-leading by supermarkets.

In addition, pubs will benefit from the doubling of the small business rate relief for a second year running, and social drinkers will no longer be hit by punitive rises in alcohol duty.

Of course once pubs close, there's a risk that they are developed for housing and lost forever.  So the Government is introducing a community right to buy, which will enable residents to save their pub by taking them over rather than seeing them empty and derelict. 

It's the same principle of local ownership that has seen two successful community shops  in my constituency (Amberley and, more recently Kirdford), with another planned in Slindon.

In the same way that rural services are protected by being innovative, pubs can offer new services, like broadband, that bring new customers in, and of course many now focus on providing excellent food.

Reform of the licensing laws will make it easier to play live music in pubs and help to attract new customers.

The economic downturn has made life tough for businesses, and pubs are no exception.  People have less money to spend.  But I hope that village pubs will be supported and preserved as an integral feature of rural life.

Christopher N Howarth