With a May Election rapidly approaching its hard to ignore the relentless wave of news, whether it be the papers, TV, radio, blogs, tweets and whichever other way the sultans of spin have found to influence us. Rows of telepaths at Conservative HQ? It's an excuse for everyone including the humble blogger to devote countless hours and inches to the claims of identi-kit politicians.
Well I'm no different I'm afraid so if your mind is a political vacuum and you want it to stay that way turn away now or maybe take a moment to trap the cat instead. Studying the Labour manifesto, which I know we all do, I note that under a heading of protecting community life, Mr Brown claims to:
Understand that strong community life also depends on protecting the places in which people come together…The local pub and social club are also hubs of community life. Too many pubs have closed that could have been sustained by local people.
It's interesting to note that this is wheeled out as part of the manifesto rather than having acted on this decline over the last 13 years. The British Beer and Pub Association recently released figures to suggest that we are losing 28 pubs a week and has topped 58 per week at a peak. Naturally special interest groups shout from the pumps and beer cellars that we need to do something about this decline and link closures to this kind of political promise. But do we need to save pubs? Strange maybe for a pub blogger but I say broadly in towns and cities no we don't need to save them. A recession and harsher trading conditions are a great leveller for any service business. My rationale is that roughly speaking a bad business will fail and a well run one which is relevant to its customers - with good service, well kept beer and a sense of community will survive. These well run businesses may even prosper from the failure of less successful pubs. Yes, there are wider issues of the way the industry works but I think there is a certain truth in good businesses prosper, bad ones don't. We didn't save whole industries; the closure of which decimated whole towns, villages and regions so why start with saving pubs. Save the industries and you in turn save the pubs that serve the communities in which those industries are based. In smaller towns and villages where there may only be a handful of pubs, a declining population, property bought for weekend getaways, the argument is admittedly different and this is where Brown's measures could make a difference. The manifesto continues to claim that:
We will support pubs that have a viable future with a new fund for community ownership in 2010-11. Councils must take full account of the importance of pubs to the local community when assessing proposals that change their use, and we will make it more difficult to demolish pubs. Restrictive covenants applied by pub companies to property sales will be curbed and flexibility for pubs to provide related services promoted, making it easier to have live entertainment without a licence. A non-tie option should be available for pub tenants;
Obviously as a manifesto there are no definitions of viable future, the use of should and there seem to be no hard figures around the community fund. Is it all hollow electioneering? Will this community fund come of a lottery fund? Will Gordon even be around to carry it through? Only time will tell.
Right, I'm off for a beer, anyone know a good pub that's still open?