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Standing up for local pubs: Toby’s Derbyshire Times Column for this week

Pubs are part of the social fabric of Chesterfield.  Anyone who doubts the affection in which Chesterfield folk hold their locals, only need to look at community campaigns to save pubs like The Crispin.

But unfortunately pubs are in trouble.  The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) estimates that 26 pubs close each week and that each closure costs local economies like ours £80,000.

Many factors are behind this, including changing lifestyles and the increase in VAT.

But there is no doubt that the unfair and unbalanced relationship between large Pub Companies (known as PubCos) and their licencees has been a key factor in pub closures in Chesterfield and beyond.

Toby and the SpireMany landlords I meet in Chesterfield dreamt of opening a pub so they could be their own boss.  Unfortunately this dream is too often shattered.  The PubCos own three quarters of Britain’s pubs and usually require their licencees to buy all drinks products from them, at whatever price they determine.  There are also many disputes about setting of rents on pubs, and even cases where a licencee works hard to increase the profit of their pub only to see this swallowed up in increased rents the next year.

Despite the problems facing the industry it is still shocking that CAMRA estimates that three fifths of landlords tied to PubCos earn less than the minimum wage.

The cross-party Business Select Committee has investigated this issue several times and has consistently recommended a strengthened statutory code to rebalance this relationship.

By the time Derbyshire Times readers read this, I will have used a parliamentary debate on PubCos to call for this year’s Queen’s Speech to include such a code.  I believe there is also a majority in parliament amongst MPs of all parties in support of these measures and I hope that parliament will have united behind three key principles appearing in a strengthened code:

1. The Beer Tie, where landlords can only buy products from their PubCo, works for some licencees.  However, for many others it means they can only buy limited products at inflated prices.  I want every landlord to have the choice of whether to go free-of-tie.  This would allow licencees to but the beer in a re-constructed market which would actually be more open and competitive.

2. When a new licencee takes over a pub, or when an existing rent contract expires and is renegotiated, there should be a fully transparent and independent rent review completed by a qualified surveyor.

3. There must be a truly independent body to monitor the regulations and adjudicate in disputes between licencees and pubcos.

This idea is backed by a coalition broad enough to include small business groups, pub enthusiasts and trade unions who have all been demanding the code be introduced for four years.

Of course this won’t cure all of the problems facing the traditional local overnight, but it could see the start of a fight back against the wave of local pub closures.

We can all drink to that.

By Toby Perkins, MP for Chesterfield and Shadow Pubs Minister

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Welcome

I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

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Post: 113 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 1NF

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