MP WRITES: Time for a new pubs code

There are no better pleasures in life than enjoying the taste of a well-pulled pint in a pub where there is great company and an atmosphere that allows you to put the world to rights.

I hope the sunny weather has meant that you have been able to enjoy a drink in your local boozer. But the fact is that the pub is great in all weathers and for all seasons – it is great in summer to quench your thirst on a hot day, but it is equally inviting when there is snow on the ground.

The pub is one of the great British institutions that can bring communities together.

They should be cherished. I love pubs and beer – perhaps more than I should confess here in the Hartlepool Mail – and I think the town has some great traditional pubs that need to be protected.

We have moved away from the fact that in Hartlepool in the early part of the 20th century there was a higher ratio of pubs to streets than any other part of the country, and we have sadly lost some great ones, but we need to protect the ones that remain.

Of course, people’s habits change. More wine is now drunk in this country than beer and 70 per cent of all alcohol purchased in Britain is now consumed at home rather than in the pub.

If somebody wants to enjoy a bottle of wine with friends and family, or have a barbeque with a couple of cans, that is entirely up to them.

However, the structure of the pub industry makes it difficult for pubs to compete and make a living. The large pub companies – the so-called PubCos which account for the majority of pubs in this country – lease pubs out to tenants to run as their own businesses.

These tied pubs are contractually obliged to buy their beer only from the PubCo rather than on the open market – that’s why they are classed as tied.

This can increase the costs for the landlord amounting to tens of thousands of pounds a year, as PubCos often demand 50 per cent more for beer than so-called free-of tie pubs. On top of this, sharply rising business rates might mean that a landlord of a small pub has to clear £40,000 of sales before he or she can take a penny in wages for themselves.

It is little wonder that under these circumstances, on top of changing consumer tastes, pubs are finding it difficult to continue. This has contributed to the number of pub closures increasing from 12 a week to 18 and over 200 pubs have been converted to convenience stores in the past couple of years. We have seen that happen in Hartlepool a couple of times in recent years.

That’s why I fully support the idea of a statutory code to regulate the relationship between PubCos and their tenants and licences. In particular, I would like to see the proposals put forward by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, enacted which would mean that publicans could buy their beer on the open market, which should drive down costs that could ultimately benefit the pub drinker. If pubs remained tied, at the very least they should be given the legal right to buy one real ale as a guest beer outside of any contractual beer tie.

Pubs are an important British institution, but the current structure of the pub industry doesn’t help them continue. A statutory code is something I think all drinkers could raise a glass to.