Britain’s community pubs have been closing at an unprecedented rate in recent months. And all too often, in the debate about the small minority of premises that give the trade a bad name, we forget all the good work that pubs do in their local communities. Local pubs do a great job in raising money for charity and good causes, acting as the heart of their community, and drawing tourists to Britain.
However, there is genuine concern about excessive alcohol consumption, particularly that caused by people buying large quantities of very cheap alcohol from supermarkets and off-licences, and the impact that this is having on behaviour in public places. I share those anxieties, but I do not believe that year-on-year, above-inflation tax increases on beer are the solution to the problem. That is why the Liberal Democrats tabled amendments to the House of Commons Finance Bill to try and prevent these increases.
I am concerned that these rises in beer duty will harm pubs which are already struggling in difficult economic circumstances. There is also little evidence to suggest that these higher taxes will have a significant impact on binge drinking.
Much of the binge drinking that takes place is fuelled by people drinking very cheap alcohol from supermarkets before they go out. This is why the Liberal Democrats have proposed introducing a social minimum price for alcohol to prevent supermarkets from selling alcohol below cost price. This would have the advantage of targeting irresponsible retailers rather than applying a blanket tax hike across the industry, which disproportionately affects pubs.
It’s good to see the pub trade, working with the consumer body CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), fighting back. Today sees the launch of a new campaign called ‘Axe The Beer Tax – Save the Pub’. Given the strength of feeling among pub goers and the trade, this campaign needs support, to make it clear to the Government that pubs need a break from endless tax increases and new red tape. The campaign website is at www.axethebeertax.com. I wish it well.