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Use It Or Lose It!

Dear Editor,

As someone who has more than a passing interest in the fortunes of UK publicans, I would like to speak on their behalf concerning the fact that duty on alcohol will rise by 8 per cent on Monday December 1st.

On hearing the Pre Budget Report, I thought that the government might have thrown a lifeline to hard pushed licensees by reducing VAT by 2.5%, but of course this is largely offset by the aforementioned increase in duty. According to reports published in the wake of this increase, a local pub will close every day for the next two years as a result of tax hikes hidden in Gordon Brown's recession rescue package.

Of course one could argue that perhaps if the pub industry had done more to protest against the smoking ban then the smokers would not have left the pubs in their droves as many have done. Then the pubs could at least have absorbed these tax rises. I have in the past found it difficult to sympathise with publicans for this exact reason. It is a fact that cheap supermarket beer, and the fact that nobody wants to stand in the freezing cold to smoke make a very strong case for deserting your local pub.

However, with recession looming, and January the worst month of the year for the licensed trade, we will surely see even more traditional pubs closing, especially those who do not enjoy the freedom to buy their stock from the cheapest supplier as a result of being tied to their leasing company.

As I see it, in a few years time the only places that will remain open are likely to be the large, faceless pub chains such as J.D Wetherspoon, who have the ability to buy and sell their stock in bulk. Of course there will always be a place in the market for such establishments, but for many drinkers, myself included, they are nothing more than glorified coffee houses.

I would therefore urge your readers to consider these points when choosing where to spend their hard earned cash during the festive season and beyond. If you want to keep the UK pub tradition alive, it's a case of "use it or lose it".

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Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Sir,

I am writing an open letter today in an attempt to seek clarification from someone on the effects of the July 1st smoking ban on pub profits.

On September 7th, the UK's largest pub chain, JD Wetherspoon, who's flagship pub, The Imperial is a local landmark in Exeter, issued a statement which read "JD Wetherspoon has delivered record results as the UK smoking ban failed to dent profits" (Source: CatererSearch).

Just 2 months later, on November 7th, it issued a statement which stated that "it remained cautious over trading after the introduction of the smoking ban in England dented sales" (Source: Reading Evening Post).

I am naturally a little bemused by this, and would like some kind of explanation from Wetherspoon supremo, and local resident, Tim Martin as to what all this means exactly.

Would it be cynical of me to say that the first statement was written for the shareholders, while the second one is a matter of public record?

On another note, now that the winter weather is finally with us, and the social lepers who choose to smoke are herded on to the street, or designated "dying area", I wonder how local publicans are faring. To request their comments through the E&E would be a trifle unfair, as few publicans will admit to having an empty pub, but perhaps there are those who will give us an honest answer?

I await the replies from them and Mr Martin with interest.

Note: This letter was not published in the Express & Echo, no doubt down to the official denotice on any pro-smoking malarkey by HM Gov.

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