Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - February 1997

* Creative Job Creation *

When Bass announced their alleged creation of 7,000 new jobs, it was splashed across the media in glowing terms. But you have to take news like that with several large pinches of salt, particularly since this is the same employee-friendly company which was planning to sack up to 2,000 people if its takeover of Carlsberg-Tetley had gone through.

Most of these new jobs were supposed to be in its managed house division, in theme bars, family dining outlets and other enticing concepts. Now, there might be some truth in the story if the pub trade was booming, but it clearly isn't, partly because greedy companies like Bass are busy pricing pubs out of the market. As far as I can see, a lot of pubs are struggling, trade is often slack, and the proportion of the drinks market going to the take-home trade is steadily growing.

If Bass manage to tempt more people to eat out rather than at home, there might be a few jobs to be gained. But the vast majority of those 7,000 jobs will come at the expense of people working in small tenanted pubs and free houses, and I know where I'd prefer to do my drinking. Bass' claims of job creation are just as spurious as those made for the new superstores along the A34, which, as predicted, have ravaged local centres for miles around.

* How Free is Duty-Free? *

The other side of the same coin is shown by the equally misleading claims that huge numbers of jobs will be lost when duty-free sales are ended within the European Union. If people don't really want all that duty-free perfume, fags and booze, then they'll save their money and be able to spend it on something more useful. If they do want it, they'll buy it somewhere else, and that could be to the benefit of their local traders. Who knows, some of it might even end up going over the bars of local pubs. I have no sympathy whatsoever for airport operators, who have a monopoly position and exploit it for all it's worth. Have you ever come across anything cheap in an airport outside the duty-free shop? And how good are the duty-free prices when you add back the duty?

* Wasting Police Time *

In a 48-hour pre-Christmas blitz, Strathclyde police breathalysed the grand total of 14,548 motorists. Out of all these, there were only 22 positive results, or less than one-sixth of one percent. This was hailed as a great success by "road safety" campaigners, and in a sense it was, as it demonstrates very clearly how the overwhelming majority of the population abide by this particular law.

But, given that so very few offenders were caught, can we really believe that this was an effective use of police manpower? It must be one of the easiest forms of police work ever devised, requiring no special skill, planning or courage whatsoever, and judged a success even if you almost completely fail to find any lawbreakers.

While the police were busy harassing innocent motorists, the burglars, rapists, muggers and drug-pushers of Strathclyde must have been having a field day. As these figures underline, the drink-driving problem is one of a small hard-core minority, and, rather than this scattergun approach, the proper police response should surely be a much more closely targeted one.

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