Closing time for struggling pubs

DOZENS of Ipswich pubs are at serious risk of closure because of “irresponsible” supermarket bargain booze offers and government over-regulation, landlords warned today.

Josh Warwick

DOZENS of Ipswich pubs are at serious risk of closure because of “irresponsible” supermarket bargain booze offers and government over-regulation, landlords warned today.

The stark message came after it emerged that a staggering 17 pubs - including a handful of the town's oldest - have gone out of business in little more than two years.

With beer sales reported to be at their lowest in decades, landlords claim spiralling taxes and unfair competition has left one of Britain's best-loved traditions on its knees.

Shaun De Silva, chairman of pub group Ipswich Barwatch and landlord of the Brewers Arms in Orford Street, said the majority of Ipswich pubs on the periphery of the town centre were struggling.

And he pointed the finger of blame at the government's tough rules on the pub trade coupled with the ease with which supermarkets can shift cheap booze.

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“Due to the current economic climate, the difficulties following the smoking ban and price increases, pubs are finding it very hard to survive. I know for a fact that I'm struggling,” he said.

“This is a problem which is affecting the well-established pubs as well as the newcomers to the industry.

“Pubs used to be the beginning and end of life. Everyone would come to the pub, meet up with friends and have a chat.

“Today, people can have their mates round, have a few drinks and it costs them a fraction of the price.

“I warned this would happen a long time ago - I said up to 20 per cent of our pubs in Ipswich would close and if you look at the figures, I'm not far wrong.”

Nationally, 27 pubs close every day, while campaign group Camra claims the average punter will be forking out £5 for a pint by the time the Olympics come to London in 2012.

Figures indicate the price of a pint of real ale has jumped 12p since the budget, while the price of lager has gone up by 14p.

However offers in supermarkets have remained low. Asda in Ipswich was today offering 18 cans of Carlsberg for just £10, the equivalent to 12.6p per 100ml.

Mr De Silva said such aggressive pricing was killing the pub trade.

“I have never tried to scaremonger - but the whole face of the industry is changing,” he said.

A spokesman for Sainsbury's, one of the largest supermarket chains in the UK, said: “We sell beer, wines and spirits at prices that are competitive, and from time to time we also run price promotions on a variety of lines.

“These are popular with our customers as they offer outstanding value.

“The vast majority of our customers who buy alcohol do so as part of their regular and large grocery shop and consume it over a period of time.”

Should supermarkets be subject to the same regulations as pubs when it comes to selling alcohol? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

A HOST of jaded Ipswich publicans today told of their struggle to make ends meet.

Val Bint, licensee of The Steamboat Tavern in New Cut West, said the supermarket trade in alcohol had left her fighting a constant battle just to break even.

“The pub trade is so sat on by the police and the council, we're more regulated than anybody else,” she said.

“You see people at supermarkets buying trolley-loads of beer because they can flog it so much cheaper, but we are not allowed to sell alcohol like that.

“The cabbies will tell you that they are bringing people into town drunk nowadays. Drinkers are then coming into the pubs and having maybe one or two pints.”

She used the example of a bottle of Becks lager to illustrate the difficulties she faces.

“To keep us a break-even point, I have to sell a bottle of Becks for £3, but you could walk into a supermarket and buy 20 bottles for £8.

“This is killing our traditional pub trade - we are losing part of our heritage. Everybody is bailing out of the industry.”

Veronica Chambers, licensee at McGinty's, said many people could no longer afford to drink in pubs.

She added: “We are losing a national institution.”

Phil Taft, landlord of the Milestone, claimed supermarket offers did not promote the notion of sensible drinking.

“We need one law that suits everybody,” he said. “At the moment, there's no restriction on what the supermarkets can do.

“Pubs are closing down left, right and centre and landlords are thinking 'why are we doing this?'.”

The government has promised to take tough action against the alcohol industry unless it does more to promote sensible drinking.

The promise comes on the back of National Health Service figures which show that more than £1bn a year is spent on treating people in hospital because of alcohol, including £372m on ambulance journeys and £646m on visits to casualty.

PUB beer sales declined 10.6 per cent between April and June compared to last year following Alistair Darling's decision to slap 4p on a pint and raise duty 2pc above inflation for the next four years.

The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) repeated its claim that beer sales are now at their lowest level since the Great Depression.

In just three months, the BBPA estimates the Treasury has collected £88m less in beer duty and VAT than in the same period last year.

Research by Camra has revealed that 62pc of pub-goers blame the government for high beer prices while a further 69pc said community pubs were the best place to enjoy alcohol.

Meanwhile, a licensee has written to Gordon Brown urging him to consider a minimum price on alcohol to help combat binge-drinking and alcohol-related issues.

Ben Walters, lessee of the White Horse, in Epsom, Surrey, says setting a minimum price of 50p per unit would be the “common sense thing to do”.

Ipswich pubs which have closed or are in the process of closing:

Waveney

Smock

Horse and Groom

Racecourse

Haven

Harlequin

Kings Head

Silver Star

Victoria

Premier Pool

Neptune Snooker Club

Harveys

Great White Horse

Arboretum

Black Horse

Spread Eagle

Old Bell