Local pubs must not be allowed to perish

As Labour’s shadow Small Business Minister, I’m responsible for Labour’s policy on one of the most important sectors of our society.

Regardless of whether you work in the public or private sector, we all know how important it is that our economy has successful businesses providing employment, and hopefully, paying their taxes!

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy, providing 75 per cent of all private sector employment, and about half of the tax revenues.

One specific sector that I am responsible for is Britain’s hard-pressed pubs industry.

Our pubs are amongst our most iconic national treasures. But whilst the Rovers Return and the Queen Vic might remain hubs of their fictional communities, around Chesterfield too many pubs are closing and landlords are facing bankruptcy.

Each pub that closes costs 10 jobs and sees a loss of around £100,000 to the Treasury in lost tax revenues.

Pubs are struggling in these tough times. From cheaper supermarket offers to cash-strapped punters saving their pennies, but the unfair relationship between the big pub companies who own around 70 per cent of all our pubs and their landlords has gone on too long.

Many people dream about taking their life savings and investing it in a pub, running their own business, yet this dream has turned into a nightmare for thousands of publicans.

Last week I brought a debate into Parliament calling for the relationship between pubco’s and their landlords to be subject to regulation which would ensure that the little guy paid a fair rent and had the freedom to buy his beer wherever he wanted.

As we go to press it appears that, under huge pressure to back our call, the government will now agree to put the relationship on a statutory footing, but they are unclear what the detail will be.

It would lead to more pubs staying open, lower prices at the bar and fewer shattered lives - I’m sure we’ll all raise a glass to that!

We have made it clear that if the government takes the steps we have called for, we will work with them to get it on to the statute book as quickly as possible.

Opposition can be thankless and much of what is happening as the economic recovery flatlines - the cost of living goes up and there is a squeeze on already tight family budgets - can make you despair, but on occasions like this when you are able to change government policy and take a significant step towards a fairer way of doing business, it can still be pretty rewarding.

Assuming we get this victory in the bag, for small businesses we will move on to supporting those firms who signed up to unfair swap agreements with their banks as a condition of getting business loans, try and ease the path of access to finance for small businesses and ensure that creditors and employees get a fair deal when companies go under.

If we can force government action on all of this, 2013 could be a very satisfying year!

by Toby Perkins, MP