In my home town of Shepherd’s Bush in London, I live just off the Askew Road. 10 years ago, it was a bit shabby. People could have driven through it and not taken a second look at the place. Now though, it’s getting quite chic. There’s a posh butchers’, a posh bakers’, a few posh cafes and now a posh pub.
The posh pub is called The Eagle. It serves great food, has a quaint garden and the interior is full of polished mahogany. It’s the sort of place which reminds me why, apart from libraries, pubs are the greatest buildings in the world.It is only one of two pubs remaining on Askew Road though. In its shabby days, Askew Road used to have four. Why is this?
The pub industry has been consistently punished by the government in recent years. Over the last five years, 7,000 pubs were closed, with 58,000 jobs lost as a result. Various punitive measures have contributed to this, the most damaging of which is the increase in beer duty. From 2008-2013, the Beer Duty Escalator meant beer tax automatically increased by 2 per cent above inflation every year. Over a five year period, beer duty increased by 42 per cent, while beer duty revenue increased by only 12 per cent.
Admittedly, people are drinking less; particularly young people. The Health and Social Care Information Centre published statistics recently which were a dagger to the perception of the tearaway teenager you read about in the Daily Mail. In 1998, 71 per cent of 16 to 26 year olds said they’d had an alcoholic drink in the previous week. By 2010, only 48 per cent did so. Young people are not the rebels they once were.
The smoking ban has also had a catastrophic effect on the industry. Now, I don’t really like smoking but I am also a strong believer in personal freedom. If you don’t like people smoking in a private establishment, you don’t have to be there. Nobody can be compelled to take a job in a restaurant that allows smoking. By all means, pubs should create a designated ‘smoking room’ where people can puff away all they want. But the smoking ban is the state infringing on personal freedom. It is also one of the major reasons why pubs are closing all over Britain, as smokers find alternative environments to smoke; usually at home. The Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) certainly helps, but current ratings legislation is flawed. If there were concessions for business rates to be reduced when a pub’s turnover fell, then this would help too.
The pub industry is an important industry in Britain. It supports 900,000 jobs, and most of those employed are between 16 and 24. On average, they boost the local economy by £80,000 per year. If taxes affecting pubs were cut, more jobs would be created and more small businesses would be saved. More importantly though, it’s one of the best assets a community has. It brings friends and communities together.