Tax hikes could threaten future of pubs

UNDER pressure publicans who warn tax increases could force them out of business last night accused the Government of ignoring the real problem behind binge drinking.

Dave Gooderham

UNDER pressure publicans who warn tax increases could force them out of business last night accused the Government of ignoring the real problem behind binge drinking.

Landlords across Suffolk have echoed national fears that pubs were being unfairly priced out of the market - in the wake of a further tax rise in Alistair Darling's Pre-Budget Report - while supermarkets were getting away with offering cheap deals.

Now, as fears grow over 7,500 pubs nationwide and more than 40,000 jobs, a major campaign has been launched to mobilise public and political support to save the “Great British pub”.

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The beer industry and consumers from The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) yesterday gathered in Westminster to launch the “Axe the Beer Tax - Save the Pub” campaign after the Government imposed further duty rises on beer and pubs on Monday.

Steve Sims, owner of Sudbury's newest pub, The Brewery Tap, which opened its doors last night, said: “I am delighted that Camra has helped launch this campaign and are lobbying in the right direction and the right way.

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“The chancellor said he was raising taxes to tackle national health and binge drinking but the real problem is supermarkets selling cheap beer and not having to police the customers who buy the alcohol. The Government is looking in the wrong direction and needs to get a handle on the real causes of the problem.”

The chancellor's announcement now means a third of the price of a British pint goes in tax - at the same time as beer sales in pubs are at their lowest levels for nearly 40 years and pub closures have accelerated to the rate of five a day.

Kevin Waterson, chairman of the west Suffolk branch of Camra, said: “It is a very worrying time and the pub industry across Suffolk is on a hiding to nothing.

“Increasing taxes will not stop binge drinking as it does nothing to affect cut-price supermarkets. So this campaign is very welcome.”

Campaigners claim that the Pre-Budget Report - coupled with the big duty rise in March and the planned increases due to be imposed in each of the next four years - would see beer tax rise by a further 40% within four years.

The campaign, sponsored by both the beer industry and Camra, includes a manifesto, “Last Orders - a five-point plan to save the British pub”, setting out the industry's case.

Speaking at the launch of the campaign, Rob Hayward, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “Pubs play a vital role in communities up and down the country and are an essential part of promoting a more responsible drinking culture. Yet recent changes can only force more and more people out of pubs - and more and more pubs out of business.”

On Monday, the chancellor announced plans to temporarily cut VAT from 17.5 per cent to 15 per cent from next month to the end of 2009.

But the duty on alcohol will be increased to offset the reduction on beer, wines and spirits and when the VAT cut ends, the rise will be added to the cost of a tipple.

A Home Office spokesperson said: "As part of the Government's Alcohol Strategy 'Safe. Sensible. Social - a consultation on further action”, we have been conducting extensive consultation with industry, police, local authorities and other agencies. A draft code of conduct was circulated to stakeholders for internal discussion to help inform their response to the debate.

"The consultation ended on 14 October and no decisions have been taken as yet by Ministers."

Anyone wanting to support the campaign should visit

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