Mine's a pint

The effect of a smoking ban, the rising price of beer and a recession has hit our village pubs, but by hard work, introducing new menus and listening to the locals, the survivors are stronger than ever

Ask anyone to describe their ideal village and it's a good bet that most people will include a pub (in many cases more than one). Along with post offices and local shops, pubs lie at the heart of many villages, cementing that all important social bond that sustains our rural communities.Throughout much of the country this role is under threat. Rural pubs are closing at an alarming rate, currently six per week and it is now estimated that over half of all villages in England and Wales don't have a pub. "I think one of the main causes of this trend has been the growth of the 'pubco' market," says John Buckley, Regional Director for the Wessex branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA). "Most of our pubs are tied to these large companies, who because they aren't breweries don't really understand the pub market. It's arguably better to see them as property companies and as such they are only really concerned with the bottom line.

Pubs are closing at an alarming rate. Currently six per week

"They undermine pubs in three ways. First, if a licensee makes a profit, they put up the rent, so what's the point of a landlord building up a business? Secondly, many licensees are forced to buy their beers and spirits from the 'pubco', most often at massively inflated prices, which can be anything between 30 to 50 per cent higher than market rates. Making a profit under these circumstances is very difficult. And finally, they are often more concerned with the asset value of the pub and to choose to sell them for residential development rather than run them as a business, a move which in the short-term can make them more money than a pub ever could."

Money, money, moneyEven if a landlord doesn't have a relationship with a 'pubco' there are many other problems currently facing the entire industry, problems which as Geoff Marsh, Chairman of the Portsmouth and South East Hampshire Branch of CAMRA explains are affecting their ability to trade."There are plenty of other secondary reasons for pubs closing. Two of the major ones are the ridiculously high level of tax and duty on alcohol in this county and the silly prices that supermarkets charge. Aside form the high level of existing duty, when the Chancellor recently reduced VAT he put up alcohol duty so that beer wouldn't be any cheaper, which is a move that I think illustrates what the Government thinks of the pubs and drinks industry. When it comes to supermarkets, they are often selling cans of lager cheaper than bottles of water and often as loss leaders. How can pubs compete against that?"

Give them what they wantDespite the problems facing pubs, there are many success stories here in Hampshire. David Hicks, who runs the Plough Inn in Longparish, has managed to turn around the fortunes of this pub in little under a year. "We took this on about nine months ago. What we inherited was not a great pub. The previous owner had turned it into a fine dining restaurant, which is not what village pubs are about. "We took a survey of the local community to see what they wanted and we found that there was a demand for a traditional country pub, which is what we have aimed to deliver. We have good local ales available, from breweries such as Hogs Back and Ringwood and have a menu that provides good quality food for all price ranges. Since we have brought in these changes, the pub has been successful. I think this shows that where village pubs are concerned, it's important to be conscious of what the community that you serve wants."

Supermarkets are selling cans of lager cheaper than bottles of water...How can pubs compete with that?

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Real ale loversAnother option for pubs is to innovate and offer something unique that customers can't get elsewhere, which is something that Paul Ticker, owner of The Flowerpot Inn at Chertion, has done to great success. "The attraction of our pub is that we boast a brewery on site. On a cost level this means we can offer a very competitive pint, as effectively we cut out the middlemen. However, I think what customers really love is the quality and the variety of our ales. This was illustrated when we tried to introduce a guest beer not long ago. There was just no demand for it. "Although we are a great village pub, people also come here from much further afield. I think we give people something that they can't get at home or in many other pubs. The result is that over the last three years, as the pub market has become more difficult, we've been enjoying great success."

Playing our partPubs are a vital part of the community that they serve, specifically in rural areas. They are places where people, regardless of their backgrounds, can get together during the week to socialise. As more and more post offices and shops close, in some places the pub has become the sole remaining public forum in the village.Despite the many successful pubs in the county, problems still remain. This is something that both the Government and we as customers need to realise because otherwise there is the real risk that more of them will close, something that will be to the detriment of many communities across Hampshire.

Pub facts• There are approximately 57,500 pubs in the UK. • Eight out of 10 adults count themselves as pub goers and over 15 million people drink in a pub at least once a week. • Over 600,000 people rely on pubs for their employment. • Over 80% of pubs are small businesses run by tenants, lessees and owners. • The average pub spends over �70,000 per annum on locally sourced goods and services. • UK pubs now serve over one billion meals per year.

Most popular pub namesRed Lion 759Royal Oak 626White Hart 427Rose and Crown 326Kings Head 310Kings Arms 284Queens Head 278The Crown 261

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