Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - April 2009

* Reaching for the Revolver *

The government fail to see the point of pubs and show no sympathy for their plight

THE PAST couple of years have seen an unprecedented range of pressures on the pub trade in the shape of the credit crunch, the smoking ban, a 20% increase in beer duty, a torrent of questionable “health advice” about drinking and now the threat of a mandatory code of practice which is likely to cost pubs hundreds of millions of pounds. Most of these factors are either the direct responsibility of government or have been exacerbated by their actions. So it was quite astonishing to hear the Home Office minister in charge of licensing policy, Alan Campbell, admit that he couldn’t remember the last time he had been in a pub, while Trade minister Angela Eagle denied any government responsibility and said it was all down to “shifting consumer tastes”. Another minister, Caroline Flint, could not understand why people went to pubs just to drink

This really does underline how out of touch with the concerns of ordinary people the government are. They give no indication of understanding why people should want to visit pubs or showing the slightest degree of sympathy for the plight of the licensed trade. They seem to see pubs as a kind of health hazard, scenes of fighting and binge-drinking and purveyors of unhealthy, fatty food, and totally fail to appreciate that most pub customers are entirely responsible and most pubs are friendly, trouble-free places that play an important role in community life. Given this attitude, it is perhaps wishful thinking that the beleaguered pub trade will manage to wring any meaningful concessions out of the current administration, so don’t expect the wave of closures to abate any time soon. In the words of Jonathan Neame, chairman of Shepherd Neame, “for other industries the government reached for the chequebook, but for pubs, Labour has reached for the revolver”.

* A Bunch of Fakers *

Many so-called charities are in reality government-funded lobby groups campaigning to take away your rights

IF YOU MENTION the world “charity”, most people will automatically think of an organisation funded by public donations and existing to help the sick and needy. But in recent years, another form of charity has grown up, which is largely funded by government grants, and is essentially a lobbying group rather than one that actually helps anyone. They may claim to be independent of government, but in reality any opposition they display is merely to egg government on to impose ever tighter restrictions in favour of their particular hobbyhorse. Such bodies have justifiably been dubbed “Fake Charities”.

One of the worst examples is Alcohol Concern. Far from devoting their efforts to helping the unfortunate victims of the disease of alcoholism, their primary purpose is to campaign in favour of every proposed curb on drinking and drinkers going. For this objective, they derive well over half their income from the government. In 2007/08, their total income was £903,000. £515,000, or 57%, of this came directly from the government, with a mere £4,991, about half of one percent, coming from public donations.

If they had to resort to rattling collection boxes in the street in favour of banning happy hours, closing pubs and jacking up alcohol taxes, I wonder how much response they would get. Yet the government are happy to spend taxpayers’ money in funding bodies like this whose primary aim is restricting things people enjoy.

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