Nigel Evans has been MP for Ribble Valley since 1992, is a member of the Culture, Media and Sport select committee and lives next door to a pub.

Today sees the launch of the Save the Pub Campaign to halt plans to increase beer tax and as Vice-Chair of the All Party Beer Group, I could not agree with the sentiment more.

I recently co-chaired the Community Pub Inquiry which started taking evidence almost three years ago before publishing its findings last month. Pubs are now closing at an astonishing and worrying rate of 36 per week, up from 27 in 2007 and more than 44,000 jobs have been lost as a consequence between 2000 and 2005. In order to stop these closures, we must understand the pressures that the pub industry is under.

There is the impact of the smoking ban (a blanket piece of legislation whose unintended consequences have been felt severely by pubs), higher council tax and businesses rates and higher levels of duty on beer.

It is the latter that I which to concentrate on because, combined with supermarkets selling beer at prices that are cheaper than water, beer tax is having a crippling effect on the industry. Sales of beer are at their lowest for 40 years but still nothing is being to done to protect a wonderful part of our heritage despite the fact that the pub is a Great British tradition for so many reasons.

The industry has contributed more than £28billion a year to the economy
and plays a major part in the social life of communities in Britain –
pubs are not just drinking houses but offer meeting rooms, places for
dining groups, or organise sports teams or darts and other pastimes.
But they are, of course, a great place to enjoy a drink. In this day,
when people are worried about binge drinking, pubs offer a controlled
and responsible environment in which communities can come together.

Providing relief to the British Beer and pub industry by freezing
excise duties, extending business relief and halting further
regulations would be an effective element of the wider economic
stimulus package. In fact, our report asked for a differential rate of
tax for beer served at the pump as opposed sold in cans and bottles.

The British pub and the beer industry is integral to our society –  90%
of the beer consumed in the UK is brewed in the UK; 600,000 people are
directly employed in brewing, distribution, pubs and bars, with 60% of
jobs in the pub sector highly valued part-time jobs; 85% of goods and
services used by the industry are sourced from domestic suppliers and
UK brewers support British farming, buying more than 40% of the malting
barley crop and sustaining hop farming in the UK.

We have heard a lot of recent rhetoric about helping out small
businesses during these economically difficult times. It should not be
forgotten, therefore, that 85% of pubs are SMEs with 45,000 landlords
running their own businesses.

As if the fact that a third of a price of a British pint now goes to
the taxman is not bad enough, this week’s announcement, on top of the
big duty rise in March and the planned increases due to be imposed in
each of the next four years, means that by 2012 beer tax is set to rise
by a further 40%, at least 7,500 more pubs are set to close and more
than 40,000 jobs are likely to be lost.

The Great British Pub and the industry which supports it must be
protected. The Save the Pub Campaign is saying all the right things –
it is time that the Government listened and that the Chancellor
abandoned his plans to go ahead with the proposed alcohol duty

Make sure you register your support at the Save the Pub Campaign website.

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