Local Pubs Should Be Given Tax Relief For Providing 'Social Value', IPPR Urges
"There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn," wrote Samuel Johnson in 1791.
Turns out he might have had a point... as well as a pint.
Pubs are more important places for building strong communities than anywhere else except the home, a leading think tank has found.
In fact the local pub is a more important community hub than restaurants, cafes and even other peoples' homes, and should be given tax breaks to help them survive.
With 16 pubs currently believed to be closing each week, the report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said that "community" pubs who can prove their value should be given a 50% business rate relief.
The report says this would help prevent the loss of more pubs which strengthen local networks, after a survey commissioned by the IPPR found a majority of people see pubs as the best place to keep up to speed with their community.
Rick Muir, associate director at IPPR, said: "Government must stop using a one-size-fits-all approach to licensed premises which is killing off our community pubs. Instead, responsible well-run community pubs should be encouraged and supported.
"Our research shows community pubs aren't just places to drink but also places where people meet their neighbours, where local clubs hold meetings and events, and which support many important local services such as village post offices and general stores."
According to the researchers' calculations, pubs that serve as community hubs can generate between £20,000 and £120,000 of "social value" each year.
To qualify to have half of their business rates back, pubs would have to show how they serve local communities by offering such benefits as job opportunities or free space for charities.
The report also suggests the relationship between big pub chains and their tenants should be reformed, and calls for the removal of a legal loophole which allows pubs to be demolished without planning permission.
Pubs are along the most important social institutions in a community, the research said. Up to 36% of respondents said that pubs were important for this purpose, compared with 32% saying other people’s houses, 20% saying local cafes and restaurants and 15% saying local shops.
The IPPR also said that pubs can be an important place for people from different walks of life to meet, when they otherwise might not.
Minimum prices per unit of alcohol, curbs on "irresponsible promotions" and a greater awareness of the need for training and customer tastes on the part of pubs must be developed to help stem the tide, the report said.
The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra), which carried out the research revealing that 16 pubs are closing every week, found that those in suburban areas are the worst affected.
The consumer group said that in two years 1,078 pubs have gone under in Britain's suburbs, with eight closing every week, compared to six in rural areas and two in town high streets.
The Midlands, Scotland and the North West have seen more pub closures than average, the IPPR said, though all regions of the country have been affected.
More than 600 pubs closed in the North West alone between 2005 and 2009, the report said. Almost 10% of all pubs in the West Midlands shut during the same period.
Camra chief executive Mike Benner said: "While high street city centre venues are showing a degree of resistance in the current climate, both suburban and rural areas are under threat as wholesale pub closures deprive more local people of a community centre.
"Pubs are vital for social cohesion and cultural integration, and therefore the Government must act swiftly to repair the damage inflicted upon local communities by offering genuine support for enterprising and hard-working licensees."
The research also found that pubs which are not tied to a particular brewery or pub chain are faring better, with 10 tied pubs closing every week compared to seven which are free of tie.
The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) this week reported 140 million fewer pints of beer were sold in pubs last year, as they struggle to cope with competition from supermarkets, increases in tax on beer and changes in consumers' tastes.
Responding to the report, the Neil Williams from the BBPA told the Huffington Post UK:
"We will be looking at these proposals in detail, but we can certainly agree with some of the key points – the immense social value of pubs, and the pressing need to address the huge increases in Beer Tax we have seen in recent years.
"Our own figures released today show beer sales in pubs down 3.7 per cent in 2011, which is closely linked to the still worrying level of pub closures. More supportive government policies would allow pubs to create jobs in local communities and help the economy back to growth.
"We also agree there is certainly a need for the government to address why regulation and red tape have fallen so heavily on community pubs in recent years - yet more and more alcohol is drunk at home."
The Home Office said recently that country pubs could be exempt from plans to give licensing authorities the power to charge premises which open past midnight.
An annual charge of up to £4,440 is planned for large nightclubs from the autumn, with lower fees for pubs, to help fund the additional policing costs caused by late-night drinking.
But hotels selling alcohol only to guests after midnight, restaurants serving meals, casinos and bingo halls with membership arrangements, and country pubs in villages of fewer than 3,000 people could all be exempt.
Home Office Minister Lord Henley said the proposals were an attempt to ensure that premises which were not part of the "wider late-night economy" are not penalised when the fees are brought in.