Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - December 2006
The causes of pub blight go far deeper than greedy pub companies
LAST MONTH’S “Opening Times” reported on the blight caused to various localities by closed pubs with steel shutters on the windows. The editor put the blame for this squarely on the shoulders of the pub companies. It is certainly true that pub companies seem less keen than independent brewers to keep pubs ticking over with a temporary licensee, and they have often damaged the trade of their own pubs through half-baked changes of format and lack of consistency.
But the real problem goes far deeper than that. In recent years, the amount of trade enjoyed by pubs in general, and particularly community locals, has substantially declined, so it is hardly surprising that so many have closed or are struggling to find new tenants. If you visit ordinary pubs early in the week you will often find them worryingly quiet, even deserted.
The government and media do not help, of course, with so many messages that deter people from going to pubs, painting them as scenes of rowdiness and violence, and frankly ludicrous health warnings about alcohol. It is easy to say that level-headed folks will ignore all this nonsense, and many do, but nevertheless it has a steady drip-drip effect. Pubs also get into a vicious circle of decline, where people are put off going because they are so often empty, and the lack of trade means a lack of funds for refurbishment, making them ever more dingy. Next year’s smoking ban will make matters even worse.
If we are to secure the long-term future of our traditional pubs, we must look at the underlying factors behind their decline and be prepared to do something about it, rather than just blaming the operators. It is pretty obvious that if pubs in general were thriving, there wouldn’t be so many boarded up.
Why do we need to be told the obvious on drinks packages?
IN RESPONSE to concerns about rising levels of alcohol-related violence and health problems, the government are reported to be going to make drinks manufacturers put health warnings on their products in the same way as tobacco.
However, there is a crucial difference from tobacco. Smoking is harmful to some extent at any level of consumption, whereas alcohol is only harmful if taken to excess, and indeed there is plenty of evidence that moderate consumption can be beneficial to health. And does anyone genuinely imagine that heavy drinking won’t damage your health in the long term?
These warnings are also likely to include setting ludicrous and unrealistic daily consumption guidelines. Apparently men are only supposed to consume 3 to 4 units of alcohol a day. So is anyone who drinks a couple of pints of Robinson’s Unicorn, which together contain a shocking 4.8 units, a problem drinker? And, when there is so much hand-wringing about obesity and related medical conditions, why don’t we have health warnings on all food. “Eating to excess is harmful to health!”
Health warnings on alcoholic drinks are a pointless sop to political correctness that will achieve nothing apart from perhaps deterring responsible but gullible people from even the moderate drinking that might benefit their health.