Colin Valentine: Raise a glass to supporting local beers and pubs

Genuine rural pubs aren't much further than 20 miles away from Scotland's cities. Picture: AP
Genuine rural pubs aren't much further than 20 miles away from Scotland's cities. Picture: AP
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THERE ARE ways to ensure Scotland’s bars are viable, writes Colin Valentine

Now that the dust has settled after a less than inspiring Scottish Parliamentary election campaign, many of us in the charity and not-for-profit sector are getting our bids and wish lists ready to fire off to the incoming administration.

Camra did this before the election by publishing a manifesto for Scottish pubs and real ale.

This included planning protection for pubs – planning permission is required for a change of use, but not for demolition; retaining the Small Business Bonus Scheme – this will help small and struggling pubs by keeping their rates at an affordable level; promoting Scotland’s indigenous breweries – it is surely a no-brainer that the Scottish Government should serve local beer from Scotland’s wide range of breweries and all their events and receptions and should ensure events that are backed by the Scottish Government, such as golf’s Scottish Open, must have an avenue that allows local brewers, not just global behemoths, access; and reforming the tied pub sector by introducing a Scottish Pubs Code to protect tied pub tenants and an Independent Adjudicator to rule on disputes between large pub owning companies (pubcos) and tenants when they arise.

Apart from the Small Business Bonus Scheme, implementing all of the above policies won’t cost the Scottish Government a penny and, even then, retaining the Scheme will help struggling pubs stay open and continue to pay rates, employ people and support other local businesses.

We would also like to see the Scottish Government launch a review into the impact of the lowering of the drink driving limit on the pub sector in order to develop proposals to help support pubs that have been affected and to improve public transport which, in many rural areas, is in a dreadful state and, sometimes, non-existent.

Rural pubs all over Scotland are struggling with the persistent trend of drinking cheap supermarket hooch at home, rather than going out to the pub for a sociable pint or two, which continues at a relentless pace. This trend has been exacerbated by the new drink driving limits, which have now been in force for a year and a half, ensuring that people won’t even have a half pint of session beer if they visit a country pub.

It’s easy to see why many of our rural pubs are struggling. Even from the centres of our large cities, genuine rural pubs aren’t much further than 20 miles away and we should be pressuring the Scottish Government and local councils to up their game when it comes to public transport in rural Scotland to ensure that these pubs do not close their doors for ever.

This is not a plea for taxpayer subsidies to allow people to go boozing, but for them to look at the bigger picture and ensure that our rural communities, which are home to over 20% of the Scottish population, continue to be viable.

Rural living should not be exclusively for those who can afford to run a car. We need to see properly funded bus services to ensure that people who cannot afford a car or cannot drive, for whatever reason, are able to enjoy being part of a wider community, and are not isolated in their homes. Pubs play an important part in bringing people together and creating and fostering friendships, which everyone should be able to access, regardless of where they live.

Actually, what is really needed is a Scottish Pubs Minister. Not a separate minister, but one who can add pubs to their portfolio to ensure that an industry that employs some 60,000 people, most of whom are under 25, has a champion. The industry is looking for fairness, not favours, and a Pubs Minister would ensure that all of the different areas of government that affect pubs can be co-ordinated and that nothing falls between two (or more) stools as has happened in the past.

Perhaps the successor to Richard Lochhead at Rural Affairs, Food and Environment, whoever he or she is, might have a think about having someone in their Department to take up the challenge.

We at Camra look forward to working with the incoming administration to promote two great Scottish industries that provide tens of thousands of jobs and are inextricably linked.

• Colin Valentine is National Chairman, Campaign for Real Ale