Increases in beer duty are driving Westcountry pubs 'to the wall'
Pub landlords and brewers want the Chancellor to call time on automatic Treasury hikes in beer duty which, they say, are sending a dozen Westcountry pubs to the wall each month.
Campaigners from the region are set to gather today to present George Osborne with a "message in a barrel" – demanding an end to the Government's beer duty escalator, which lumps around 10p on the average pint every year.
MPs, real ale campaigners, small breweries, the pub and landlord industry body and the TaxPayers Alliance have all united in opposition to the inflation-busting tax rise.
The measure – introduced by Labour Chancellor Alastair Darling – adds 2% on top of the headline rate and has increased pump prices by 40% since in 2008, accounting for two-thirds the price of a pint.
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John Lawton, owner of the Newton Abbot-based Teignworthy Brewery, who plans to join the Whitehall delegation, said 6,000 pubs had closed nationwide since its introduction.
He estimates "two to three" pubs each week in Devon and Cornwall are being forced to shut, a claim highlighted by the recent closure of Dartmoor's historic Drewe Arms.
"Our beer tax is the highest in Europe – it is continuing to rise and pubs are continuing to close," he added.
"First it was the post offices then the farmers now publicans now need daytime jobs just to keep trading.
"Osborne is very crafty – he doesn't have to announce an increase in duty in his Budget speech, he just says it will be in line with the escalator."
Experts in Cornwall said the county's total of 620 pubs remained unchanged in 2012.
However, rising prices have been blamed for a "constant stream" of landlords, going out of business, then being replaced. Rod Davis, pubs officer for he Campaign for real Ale (CAMRA), said: "I was surprised to find a net loss of zero last year but that figure hides a lot of pain and grief.
"The churn is quite high down here and people really struggle – both the free-houses and those run by the pub companies."
The TaxPayers' Alliance (TPA) yesterday launched a major new campaign calling for a freeze in beer duty at next month's Budget.
Hundreds of thousands of beer mats will be distributed to pubs, detailing "the facts about tax on beer" and inviting the public to send a message to their local MP calling for action.
Matthew Sinclair, TPA chief executive, said another rise next month would be "a further blow to people already struggling with the increasing cost of living".
He added: "In opposition, Conservative and Lib Dem politicians were quick to decry the beer duty escalator for the burden it places on people wanting to enjoy a drink and the threat it poses to pubs up and down the country – they are now in a position to do something about it."
The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), CAMRA and the Small Independent Brewers Association (SIBA), are supporting the campaign.
BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds, said a tax freeze could create jobs and protect Treasury revenues."
Devon MP Mel Stride said reducing duty would help vibrant pubs remain "at the heart of local communities".