A new CAMRA report champions the benefits of community pubs and calls for Government to recognise the positive impacts they have on health and wellbeing. It follows research last year linking the existence of pubs in rural areas with increased community cohesion and social engagement.
'Friends on tap: the role of pubs at the heart of the local community' [pdf] was commissioned by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and conducted by Oxford University Professor Robin Dunbar who says 'friendship and community are probably the two most important factors influencing our health and wellbeing'.
Whilst the report may not bring many surprises in its core assertion that social interaction is good for us - rather than the pub per se - it does raise the valid question of whether fostering community pubs should form an active part of Government alcohol policy making. As such it may be considered good news that the overall rate of pub closures is slowing, although still at a rate of 27 per week. Alcohol consumption has of course been on an overall downward trend, although signs are that this could be ending. However it is unlikely that there will be much change off-trade's dominance of alcohol sales, at least not without significant pricing changes.
The report as such is a platform for off-trade groups to highlight the positive impact community pubs have, even if community cohesion and wellbeing are less tangible benefits than the various arguments for regulated drinking environments. CAMRA, as well as the Scotch Whisky Association, the British Beer and Pub Association and the Wine and Spirit Trade Association though are lobbying for further cuts to drinks taxes to support producers and the pub trade.
Duty cuts are of course largely opposed by health groups on the broader basis that tax levels still influence affordability, although are generally considered of limited value within the current duty system and without minimum pricing. However in 2010 liver specliast Nick Sheron argued to cut VAT for pubs in the absence of minimum pricing. Recently IFS have again called for changes to alcohol duty, in part to help reverse the 'long-run trend towards lower spirits duties'.
Over recent years pubs have increasingly diversified in order to stay alive, whether through food, coffee or the 'craft beer revolution'. Political support may also be argued to be playing a role as the official Pubs Minister would no doubt state; last year Greg Mulhullond was succeeded by Marcus Jones for the title, whilst an All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group exists to 'promote the wholesomeness and enjoyment of beer and the unique role of the pub in UK society'. Organisations such as the Pub is the Hub also exist to actively support the sucess of community pubs as enterprises.
Regardless, many pressures will continue to exert on the remaining 49,000 pubs in Britain. The established dominance of the off-trade coupled with a more abstemious younger generation suggests pubs - and the benefits they may bring - may be set to decline further.