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Last orders for our pubs?

PUBLISHED: 16:36 18 March 2009 | UPDATED: 10:33 23 August 2010

CONCERN: Terry Orford - landlord at The Painters’ Ash pub in Northfleet.

CONCERN: Terry Orford - landlord at The Painters' Ash pub in Northfleet.

PUBLICANS throughout north Kent say the credit crunch and costly bureaucracy is threatening livelihoods and community life. I was born in a pub, and I always said that I would die in a pub. But I don t think there is any chance of that now. I have tri

Gravesend
14-05-08
New Inn pub
l/r, Landlord Pip Nevell & Dave Law, helped save a woman's life when she was stabbed by her ex-husband.
Pip Nevell

PUBLICANS throughout north Kent say the credit crunch and costly bureaucracy is threatening livelihoods and community life.

"I was born in a pub, and I always said that I would die in a pub. But I don't think there is any chance of that now.

"I have tried to keep away from the doom and gloom, but things are just so hard for the landlords now, it used to be a trade that you did ok on, but now, it is a financial burden.

"Pubs are pillars of the community, we help the community. They are places where people come to talk about their problems, where people go to socialise.

"The smoking ban is what hit us really hard at first, and with the recession as well and the increase in taxes on beer, it has really hurt the pub trade. People are just staying away, they can't afford to come and sit in a pub anymore," explains Pip Nevell, 47, the landlord of the New Inn, in Milton Road, Gravesend.

It is a familiar story in north Kent and across the country, as the British Beer and Pub Association warn six pubs are closing every day with the entire industry under 'real threat'.

Last week the Reporter exclusively revealed the 100-year-old Kings Arms, in Wrotham Road, Meopham, had closed with more than 20 people losing their jobs.

Mark Croucher, 43, a former landlord of the Two Brewers in Lowfield Street, Dartford, had to sell the pub back to the brewery in June last year after turnover dropped by more than 50 per cent, and has now left the pub trade altogether.

He said: "The situation for the pub industry in this country is dire and it is difficult not to fear for the future. Pubs are an intrinsic part of the fabric of our society. Nothing compares to them. When they are gone it will bring a social isolation to the community, and to lose them for good would be a great shame."

Mr Croucher, of East Hill, Dartford, added: "I don't know any landlords at the moment that are saying they are doing better this year than they were last year.

"Pubs are losing turnover by anywhere between five to 50 per cent, and that is having a massive affect on them. At the Two Brewers, in 2007, over the course of one weekend in May, we made more than £8000. In 2008, over the same weekend, we made less than half that, taking in just £3,400. It is a balancing act all the time as prices go up and turnover falls. It is a combination of factors all conspiring against the trade. People can't afford to drink out in this economic climate and the overheads are phenomenal. The future is the bleakest it has ever been."

Landlords across north Kent say a combination of factors have affected the pub industry, including the smoking ban, the increase in tax on beer, the low cost of alcohol in supermarkets and the economic downturn.

On Monday the government's top medical advisor, Sir Liam Donaldson, announced plans for a minimum price on alcohol, which could see the end of cheap drinks in supermarkets, and is aimed at tackling alcohol abuse. He is the same advisor who recommended the smoking ban which started in July 2007.

Terry Orford, 52, landlord of the Painters Ash, in Dene Holm Road, Northfleet, said the plan might encourage drinkers back to pubs.

But despite the proposal which would see the majority of sensible drinkers punished, the government is expected to reject the advice.

Mr Orford said: "In the last two years I have noticed a drop in trade. You can try and look at when it first started to get worse and say that it was the smoking ban, but really the economic climate is what has really had the most effect.

"The price of beer is also ridiculous now, and when you look at supermarkets charging such low prices for it, how can you compete. If the government does bring in this minimum charge for alcohol to stop the lower prices, it might help.

"But with the situation we are in at the moment, you just don't know how much longer you are going to last in this trade."

Mr Croucher added: "It is the cost of beer that hits pubs hard. We hear a lot about how cheap the price of alcohol in supermarkets is now. But one of the things that needs to be addressed now, turning the argument on its head, is the cost that some breweries are charging for their beer. I have seen before when you can buy a crate of 24 pints of Stella for not much more than £10. If you multiply that to make 80 pints, you are not going to be paying much more than £40. But a brewery will be selling that now for £100 plus VAT. It is a real problem."

South East MEP Nigel Farage, who is leader of the UK Independence Party, says the government should do more to help the pub industry.

He said: "You talk to any landlord in the pub industry today, and you find out that they are all struggling.

"We need to cut the tax on beer, and we must stop supermarkets running these loss leader pricing policies.

"The smoking ban is another issue. Since it came in, pubs have been struggling, and we would like to see every pub with a smoking room. In Germany, they have brought in the smoking ban, but in three states, they have passed legislation for smoking rooms in pubs.

"The loss of a pub is devastating to the community. It has always been and always will be, a place to go to talk and meet and get together. There has to be a place where people can have the right to go and smoke and go and drink after work."

A HM Treasury Spokesperson said: "The changes to alcohol duty announced in Budget 2008 will raise revenue that will be used to make further progress towards the Government's target of halving child poverty on the way to eradicating it by 2020.

"As with all taxes, alcohol duty is kept under review by the Chancellor as part of the Budget process."

Are you a landlord in danger of losing your pub? Call the newsdesk on 01474 320749 or e-mail ed.riley@archant.co.uk

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