Parties promise help for struggling pubs
Shaun LowthorpeCrisis-hit pubs could be saved from closure as communities will be given the right to run or own their local pub - whoever wins the general election - as both main parties go head to head over how to safeguard local services.Shaun Lowthorpe
Crisis-hit pubs could be saved from closure as communities will be given the right to run or own their local pub - whoever wins the general election - as both main parties go head to head over how to safeguard local services.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown launched Labour's manifesto with a pledge to create a fund to encourage community ownership in the local pub.
Labour said they would also make it harder to demolish pubs and relax licensing rules on live music and also repeated a pledge to create a 'people's bank' using the existing post office network.
But the Conservatives accuse Labour of stealing their ideas, stating they had already gone further with detailed plans to give communities the right to buy facilities such as the local pub, village shop, swimming pool, and library, if they can demonstrate they can run them better.
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In the first half of 2009, 52 pubs a week had closed, and more than 4,000 had shut for good since March 2008, with more than 24,000 jobs lost.
In Norfolk, where dozens of communities have been blighted by the loss of a village shop, post office and pub, the commitment of all parties to address the issue was broadly welcomed.
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Pete Williams, from Norwich and Norfolk Campaign to Save Real Ale said: 'We are absolutely delighted that both the main parties are at last facing up to this, though it's difficult to believe then when we saw the proposals to put up the price of cider in the last budget. But we are very much in favour of this. When the pub is the focus of the community, particularly in the evening, it really does need all the stops pulled out to be saved.
Nick D'eath, landlord of the Unthank Arms in Norwich and chairman of the city centre licensing forum, said he feared the pledges were too little too late.
'It's a shame these things only happen when there is an election on,' he said. 'Help could have come along a while ago. All the parties somewhere along the line say they are going to do something to help the struggling pub trade, we will wait and see what happens.'
Jon Clemo, chief executive of the Norfolk Rural Community Council, said all political parties were waking up to the strength of giving people a chance to run their own facilities.
But he said that there needed to be plenty of practical support to make it work, and it was important not to discourage the commitment of volunteers by bogging them down in too much red tape.
'It's marking a shift in thinking that communities should run more services and an understanding of practical realities,' Mr Clemo said.
'I think it will be an interesting debate about how it works. All the party leaders are talking about the strengths of localisation and now people can make their own decisions and be in charge of their own destiny.'
John Cook, Labour's parliamentary candidate in Norwich North, who has been campaigning on the pub's issue, said: 'It's something people do care about and take an interest in. Pubs are part of the community and that's no different in an urban area like Heartsease, in Norwich, as it is in a Norfolk village.'
But Chloe Smith, Conservative candidate for the Norwich North seat, said: 'We've been looking at a number of ways pubs could be active in the local community and there are a whole set of Conservative ideas we set out months before. It's a straight-forward Conservative idea.'