Bristol sees 24 pubs close as beer tax keeps rising
3 November 2012
By Tom Moseley
Published online here: http://www.thisisbristol.co.uk/Bristol-sees-24-pubs-close-beer-tax-keeps-rising/story-17216865-detail/story.html
TWENTY four pubs in the Bristol area closed in the last year, campaigners said yesterday – as ministers defended a higher tax on beer.
Yesterday MPs pointed the finger at the controversial beer duty escalator, saying it was leading to falling sales and killing Britain's pubs.
There were also warnings about the rocketing price of a pint compared to cut-price supermarket deals, and calls for a clampdown on pubs being converted into supermarkets.
Charlotte Leslie, Conservative MP for Bristol North West, put her name on the motion demanding a review of the controversial inflation-busting duty following a public petition.
She told MPs about her local, the Bear and Rugged Staff in Southmead, and said the planning for Bristol's free school took place in a pub.
Ms Leslie said the government had done "quite well" in helping the industry, but added: "Pubs are still closing at a rate of 18 a week."
Plummeting beer sales mean the duty is not bringing money into the Treasury, she said.
Ms Leslie also pointed to the fight to reopen the historic Lamplighters pub in Shirehampton, which is the subject of a petition and campaign from locals.
Turning to the cost of beer, she added: "The damage caused by cut-price booze in supermarkets is clear for all to see. I would urge the minister and government, with all speed, to end this disastrous beer duty escalator."
The escalator, brought in by the previous Labour government, hikes beer duty by two per cent above inflation every year until 2015. Yesterday's debate was welcomed by Peter Bridle, of the Campaign for Real Ale, which organised the petition.
Mr Bridle, who is chairman of the Bristol & District CAMRA group, said 24 pubs had closed in the area in the last year alone – with many more before that.
He said: "A lot of pubs are being boarded up, or converted into supermarkets and flats.
"I very much welcome the fact that this is being debated. We are getting sympathetic noises from some of them. There are one or two that could be a little more robust, but I won't name names."
Pointing out that Britain pays 40 per cent of beer tax in the EU but drinks only 13 per cent of the beer, he called for the escalator to be "scrapped with immediate effect".
But Treasury Minister Sajid Javed, who grew up in Bristol, told MPs: "Cancelling the two per cent rise for beer – the duty escalator – would cost £35m next year and £70m the following year.
"If those taxes were cancelled, it would mean that revenue would have to be recouped one way or another – either from further public spending cuts, or increases in other taxes."
Highlighting "lifestyle changes" and people switching to other drinks, the minister said: "It's those factors that are determining the size of the pub sector – not just duties."