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MPs urged to do more to help Norwich’s pubs survive, as City of Ale Festival gets into full swing

PUBLISHED: 06:30 02 June 2012 | UPDATED: 10:14 02 June 2012

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP.

Chloe Smith, Norwich North MP.

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The city’s MPs have been challenged to do more to help Norwich’s pubs survive in the face of competition from supermarkets selling cut-price alcohol.

As dozens of pubs take part in the 10-day long City of Ale 2012 festival, publicans and landlords who attended a political debate about the state of the trade, last night called for more action from the government.

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith, pictured, and Norwich South MP Simon Wright faced questions about cheap supermarket alcohol, the power of pub companies and the burden of taxes on pubs during a lively debate, which formed part of the festival.

Also involved in the debate, chaired by BBC East presenter David Whiteley, were Clive Lewis, Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Norwich South and Tim Hampson, chairman of the British Guild of Beer Writers.

One of the big issues raised was that pubs were suffering because people can get alcohol more cheaply from supermarkets.

Mr Whiteley said: “Alcohol has become so readily available in supermarkets and is much cheaper. A taxi driver said to me that he takes more people into the city drunk than he takes home.

“Is it right that you can buy alcohol so cheaply and are we coming to a point where the government will look at that more strongly?”

Miss Smith, a Conservative treasury minister, said that proposals for minimum pricing for alcohol of about 40p a unit, were out for consultation.

She said: “I have been really pleased to have worked on the minimum pricing policy. What we want to achieve is for people to drink less.

“We want them to drink in good, well-run pubs, but we want them to stop buying bad vodka in Asda. That’s the behavioural change we want to see happen.”

But she defended the beer tax escalator, which sees tax increase by 2pc above inflation each year, saying that raised valuable money, during tough economic times, to spend on services such as health and police.

However, Liberal Democrat Mr Wright said that, while he understood the need for the tax currently, he would like to see it eased or abolished once the economy recovers sufficiently.

Mr Lewis told the audience at St Gregory’s Church in Pottergate that he wanted to see business rates revamped, with pubs given a discount because of their unique role at the heart of communities.

The City of Ale festival, which runs until Sunday, June 10, involves 45 venues, 35 breweries, 219 local ales, hundreds of pub events, a Bloomin’ Ale Trail, heritage films, talks and walks and an auction.

Beer writer Mr Hampson hailed the festival as a way to boost the profile of community pubs. He said: “I believe we should be more supportive of pubs. “One of the joys of coming here is seeing how publicans and people are supporting pubs which support their communities.

“There is something growing here in Norwich which it would be good to see spread across the rest of the country.”

The festival fits in with the Evening News’ Love your Local campaign, which urges people to use their local pubs or risking losing them.

Have you got a pub or brewery story for the Evening News? Call David Bale on 01603 772427 or email david.bale2@archant.co.uk

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