I have followed some of CAMRA's comments and suggestions for some time in my area having read the Cambridge and District Branch Newsletter occasionally when I can obtain a copy of the newsletter.
I have just read the autumn 2001 issue and was not too happy about the report titled "The Outer Reaches". Many of the pubs mentioned in this article are in my area and I do feel that the criticism directed at one in particular, the Crown in Linton, was a little bit unfair. It is true that Soda water at 90 pence maybe expensive but I would never expect it free and indeed if I did get it cheaply I would be grateful. After all the place has to make money somehow and believe it or not I have seen Soda water cost a lot more than that in some places.
At present the Crown in Linton is very popular to many people in my area as the choice of pubs in South Cambridgeshire is dwindling by the year and it is this point that I wish to make the main emphasis of what I am saying.
From what I have recently heard, the village of West Wickham may become dry in the not too distant future given the death of its landlord. The brewery who own that pub have wanted to close it for some time and this maybe the chance now the landlord has died.
In the case of rural pubs I enjoy going to them myself and whilst it is important to give objective comments I certainly feel that harsh criticism if anyone is indeed prepared to make it should be reserved for only the worst places. Indeed given the difficult economics in running a pub, indeed any business in this country for that matter, a dreadful place will not survive for very long. Indeed as far as I am aware there are no pubs in my area that I could possibly say are really dreadful. In most cases we consider ourselves lucky to have the few pubs we have. The trouble is there are now too few pubs - and it is getting worse.
CAMRA is an excellent organisation and covers many issues with regard to pubs, bars breweries etc. I do feel though that it should give the rural pubs a bit more support and make more of an issue with regard to rural pubs. The loss of pubs in villages is continuing at an alarming rate and no one from any particular political party seems really to care. This is a serious issue and should be given far more attention than just the odd comment here and there. The closure of village pubs at the rate we are experiencing should not be seen as something that is inevitable and cannot be avoided.
The loss of pubs is important for several reasons. Firstly it represents a loss of jobs, both in the pub and its immediate support network. Secondly it represents a loss of social facilities. Thirdly it leads to villages becoming dormitories with no community spirit. Finally it can bring about the loss of other facilities as the closure of one then leads to a knock on effect forcing other businesses to shut. There have been instances of the pub shutting and then the post office only a few months later.
A village with no facilities alienates and isolates people and gives them nowhere to go or to socialise. The old are then totally isolated, and the young then turn to crime. We have seen this in many villages in the area. For example Shudy Camps have nothing - no pub, no shop, no village hall and no post office.
CAMRA needs to put pressure on the breweries and also the government with regard to the taxation polices of small businesses and not just focus on the price and quality of a pint. Yes it is true that drink quality and price is important, but the argument must be broadened somewhat. Excise duties are an issue, but the whole system of taxes on small business need to be addressed from the bottom up and debated fully, openly, rationally and honestly. This is something that has not yet occurred. CAMRA need to broaden their debate and focus on the issue of village pubs more than it has been doing.
I do hope the editor of CAMRA publishes this letter and I look forward to seeing any responses in future issues of the Cambridge and District Branch Newsletter.
On the wider issue, CAMRA is of course campaigning hard in support of rural pubs. We lobbied successfully for introduction of mandatory rate relief. We're working closely with the Countryside Agency on the "Pub is the Hub" initiative. We've produced a booklet advising licensees on ways of maximising their income/reducing their costs. We're lobbying for changes to the planning laws to make it more difficult to change the use of pubs to other purposes - and in the meantime CAMRA Branches up and down the country (including ourselves) support local campaigns to save pubs under threat (e.g. The Poacher Elsworth, The Boot Dullingham).
Having said that, I don't believe that any pub, rural or otherwise, should be exempt from criticism where we (as a consumer organisation) feel it to be justified. The reasons why people don't go to pubs include what they perceive as poor quality service, so we have a duty to keep pubs on their toes. But, anyway, I think my comments about The Crown were hardly damning and I certainly wouldn't want to dissuade anyone from giving it a try.
CAMRA already does all the things Gavin advocates: