City council buying up pubs is not the answer

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Ukip’s call for Portsmouth City Council to step in and protect pubs from extinction is well-intentioned.

After all, nobody wants to see time called on licensed premises that have been part and parcel of local life for many years.

But is the plan, to be discussed at the next full council meeting, realistic? Sadly, we have to conclude that the answer is no.

It would be lovely to think the council could rescue traditional pubs, which are often important community hubs, from being turned into supermarkets or flats.

But as Cllr Luke Stubbs, Tory cabinet member for planning, regeneration and economic development, points out, there are harsh economic facts to be considered here.

If pubs are closing down, then the presumption must be that they are not viable.

The council would be taking over businesses that would require subsidising by the taxpayer – at a time when local authority budgets are being squeezed hard and tough cost-cutting decisions have to be made.

Yes, as the freeholder the council could collect rent from a tenant. But surely the burden on the taxpayer would still be too great.

Plus there would always be the risk that a pub couldn’t pay its way and would have to be supported with a regular injection of funds.

Then there’s the inevitable conflict of interest that would arise if a council was a pub landlord, yet also the authority in charge of licensing.

Of course we’d all like to see our pubs, many of which operate from historic buildings, survive and thrive.

But suggesting that the council buys them off breweries and becomes landlord is, we’re afraid, in the realms of romanticism.

In the real world the only way to improve the future for many tied pubs struggling to make ends meet is to look at the issue nationally.

First off, the government must consider reducing tax on beer so that the gap between pub prices and those in supermarkets (who pay no VAT on food and use that to subsidise the price of alcohol) can be narrowed.

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