‘Give our pubs a fighting chance’

PRICE CALL ... Jarrow Brewery owner Jess McConnell.
PRICE CALL ... Jarrow Brewery owner Jess McConnell.

A SOUTH Tyneside brewery boss is calling on the Government to bring in minimum unit-pricing for booze.

Jess McConnell, who runs Jarrow Brewery, said ministers must take action by calling time on cheap supermarket alcohol, which is having a serious effect on pub takings.

It comes as research from North East alcohol office Balance revealed 16 pubs a week are closing in the UK, with landlords saying their profits have fallen heavily over the past year.

Mr McConnell, along with other publicans in the North East, has written to Business and Enterprise Minister Michael Fallon, asking him to put his weight behind a minimum price of at least 50p per unit of alcohol.

A 50p rate has already been agreed in Scotland and is due to take effect next April, but is subject to a legal challenge by opponents.

About 70 per cent of North East publicans surveyed by Balance say they support the measure.

Those backing the campaign say it will protect businesses without punishing moderate drinkers who enjoy a few pints each week.

It is estimated that alcohol abuse costs the South Tyneside economy millions each year.

Mr McConnell, who also runs The Maltings pub in South Shields, said: “Not only are these prices diverting our trade and damaging our livelihood, they mean that people are rolling into town drunk, posing a greater risk to themselves and others, including our staff, who are legally prevented from serving anyone who has drunk too much.

“The Government has an ideal opportunity to protect small business by closing the huge price gap that exists between supermarkets and community pubs.

“If they are serious about protecting us, we need a minimum unit price of at least 50p, which will have a meaningful impact on cheap supermarket alcohol, while having no effect on pub prices.”

Colin Shevills, director of Balance, said: “The introduction of a minimum unit price of at least 50p per unit of alcohol would help level the playing field, by closing the price gap that exists between pubs and supermarkets.

“This would make ‘pre-loading’ or getting drunk at home before a night out less financially appealing, and help breathe life back into the British community pub – a hugely important part of this country’s small business backbone. Anyone who loves their local, or the great British pub for that matter, needs to sign up to this campaign.

“There are many factors which are threatening our trade – but supermarkets really do have a stranglehold on pubs.

“This measure will give us some breathing space.”

To back the campaign, go to www.balancenortheast.co.uk/mup

Twitter: @shieldsgazette