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MP praises Norwich’s pub industry - but rejects calls to cut beer tax

PUBLISHED: 17:35 03 July 2012

Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North

Chloe Smith, MP for Norwich North

Archant © 2010

Parliamentary praise has been lavished on Norwich as a “very fine brewing and drinking city”, along with the Evening News’ Love Your Local campaign.

But despite the warm words from Chloe Smith, the Norwich North MP today rejected calls to cut tax on beer sold in pubs - to the dismay of struggling landlords.

Gavin Williamson, Conservative MP for South Staffordshire, said the beer duty escalator was hitting British jobs and called for it to be reversed or frozen.

This tax on beer currently rises at the rate of inflation plus 2pc.

But Miss Smith told parliament duty alone was not affecting the state of the pub industry, with changing lifestyles and extra choice for customers also needing to be considered.

And she insisted removing the escalator and duty increases would not solve the problem.

Miss Smith, economic secretary to the treasury, told the Commons shortly after midnight today: “I want to compliment my very fine brewing and drinking city of Norwich.

“I regularly go into pubs — indeed, I drink the odd beer — I run politics in the pub surgeries and my local newspaper also runs a very fine ‘Love your local’ campaign, so I am very much in tune with the spirit of what we are discussing tonight.

“The key point that I must make first is that the duty increases that we are talking about — the increases through to 2014-15 — form a vital part of the government’s plan to tackle the debt left by the previous government.

“It would be worse for everybody if we did not tackle that debt. When I say ‘everybody’, I mean beer drinkers, cider drinkers, spirit drinkers, wine drinkers, brewers, publicans and, of course, all those who never touch a drop.

“The high interest rates that would result if we abandoned our credible plan to tackle the deficit would not help anybody.”

But Dawn Hopkins, landlady of The Rose, on Queens Road, said: “Norwich was crowned the capital of ale at the weekend and I think it’s very disappointing she cannot see what’s happening to pubs in this city and things like beer duty escalator continue and pubs continue to close.

“I think it’s a shame with the hot pasties they had a tax reduced and the pub industry doesn’t come anywhere close.”

Miss Smith told MPs the number of pub closures was slowing, according to Camra figures.

But Mrs Hopkins said while this might be the case, there had been a rapid decline in years previous.

She said: “I think people still running pubs are hanging in and I don’t think any of us are having an easy time. Many are putting in 60/70 hours plus for a small return. That can only continue for so long and it will get worse when people have had enough.”

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

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