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

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  • Frankly I am sick of the myth of cheap supermarket alcohol. The current prices probably reflect the changes to production, demand and relative input prices in recent decades. Supermarket alcohol is sold without the mark up of pubs and restaurants. Look how often a bog standard bottle of wine is marked up 200% or much more over not just supermarket price but independent wholesaler price. The question has to be asked, what have management chains and companies who have bought pubs for their investment portfolio rather than as a licensed business done to our pubs.What lay person is aware if one company owns three pubs in a street and closes all but one to maximise profits?

    Report this comment

    Daisy Roots

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

  • Pubs are not just being hit by changes to drinking patterns, but by business rates, insurance charges,greedy chain owners tying tenants to high prices and underhand asset strippers buying pubs on the pretext of running a business but with the intention of letting it fail so it and its grounds can be sold for building development. Solutions? Reduce business rates where there is an owner occupier and a turnover or profit below a certain level and where there is a proven community history or benefit eg in a village with few other faciities. Place controls on tenancy and tied agreements so pub owning chains can't charge tenants more for alcohol than they can buy it independently. To deter carpet baggers, stricter checks on whether a pub has been deliberately run into the ground to justify closing it and restrictions on covenants when pubs are sold-ie only under the most extreme circumstances should a change of use be allowed.

    Report this comment

    Daisy Roots

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

  • Not going to happen, times are a changing!

    Report this comment

    City Boy

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

  • Publicans do not seem to have realised that the majority of people who buy alcohol from Corner Shops and Supermarkets do not get drunk but drink responsibly, The Public have rejected Pubs who need to reassess their approach, particularly their pricing of soft drinks, and crisps etc. Lots of private enterprises have been unable to withstand Supermarket competitions, why Publicans think their businesses are a special case that the Government should assist is a mystery. They want everyone to pay more to keep their failing trade afloat.

    Report this comment

    Orson Carter

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

  • Years ago some of my "people" kept small rural pubs where they lived, the men had day jobs and they also sold a small amount of beer-this lower key licensed premise could save village and possibly urban real ale style pubs if nowhere else, but would depend on changes to favour owner licencees.

    Report this comment

    Daisy Roots

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

  • They'll do their best but I'm not sure their alcohol consumption between them is going to make that much difference. If we the public want to drink in a pub we will and if we don't we won't. And nothing the government can do or say will alter that.

    Report this comment


    Saturday, June 2, 2012

  • Consequetive Governments have increased taxation on alcohol, as they have on a plethora of other goods and services. The Conservative coalition. U turning thrice last week to keep their rich voters happy, writing off taxes against charitable donations, has increased taxation on beer, what hypocrits. And the BBC's promotion of their own man is odious to say the least, giving him and other candidates an unfair advantage. This debate should be accounted for in their next election expenses, because all these main party's do, is score point against each other. Supporting pubs means raising the taxation in supermarkets and lowering them in pubs, creating a level of taxation that can sustain pubs, something Osborne has yet to grasp. Those who drunk too much should be shown the way out of a supermarket, not just pubs, they should not be allowed to purchase more. On the one hand the Government performs moral rectitude against binge drinking and young paralytic drinkers, whilst then promoting this in pubs, but punishing them for serving alcohol to drunks. That is singling out pubs and leaving other retailers get away with it. To top it off, the BBC will have a debate about it, off course thats only alcohol, not other drug taking, more hypocrissy, maybe Sir Richard Branson is otherwise disposed, he and Prof. Nutt should also take part in this debate, at least it would have some credibility.

    Report this comment

    ingo wagenknecht

    Saturday, June 2, 2012

  • chloe smith when are you going to start to talk about the real issues like housing and jobs for norfolk people

    Report this comment


    Sunday, June 3, 2012

  • have the Tories brought in that standard price per unit thing yet?Unfair--bet the French would be rioting in the streets if this was imposed on them.

    Report this comment


    Saturday, June 2, 2012

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