Treasury ministers have refused to block eye-watering increases in beer tax despite warnings of devastating pub closures and job losses across the West.
They said it would cost too much to axe the so-called beer duty escalator, which raises the price of a pint by two per cent above inflation.
New research shows another 20 pubs have called last orders for the final time in rural parts of the region in the past six months alone. They join thousands that have shut over the past decade – many of them key community hubs that will never be replaced.
Local campaigners warn around 1,500 vital jobs will be lost over the next three years if the coalition ploughs on with the beer duty increases.
Last night they accused the Government of turning a deaf ear to the pleas of brewers, pub owners and more than 100,000 people who signed an ‘e-petition’ demanding action.
MPs said the escalator should be scrapped to avoid even more pub closures, and highlighted evidence showing it was failing to rake in extra cash, because of falling consumption. It was imposed by Labour four years ago, is due to last until 2014-15 and is blamed for plummeting beer sales, while almost 6,000 pubs have shut since it began.
New research by Camra, the real ale campaigners, reveals 455 pubs have vanished across Britain in just six months.
They include 16 in Dorset alone, three in Somerset and one in Wiltshire – all largely rural counties. The group found some places either did not lose any pubs, such as Herefordshire, while Gloucestershire and the former Avon both gained one.
Treasury Minister Sajid Javed, who was brought up in Bristol, warned a U-turn would cost the Government £35 million next year and £70 million the year after that. He rejected the claim that hikes in beer tax were killing pubs, claiming many locals closed in the early 2000s – before the escalator was introduced.
“If those taxes were cancelled, it would mean that revenue would have to be recouped one way or another – either from further public spending cuts, or increases in other taxes or duties.”
Tory Bristol North West MP Charlotte Leslie, whose first job was in a pub, said each one contributes an average of £80,000 to the local economy – £21 billion in total.
“A tourist’s picture of Britain always includes the beautiful and the great British pub – the trouble is that once such institutions have gone, they have gone for ever. We are currently overseeing the decimation of the keystones of our culture and heritage, which not only have social and morale value, but are massively important to our economy.”
She warned: “The damage caused by cut-price booze in supermarkets is clear for all to see. I would urge the minister and Government, with all speed, to end this disastrous beer duty escalator.”
South Swindon Tory MP Robert Buckland said 1,425 people were employed by the pub and brewing industry in the town, which added £17.2 million to the local economy.
Camra has vowed not to give up the campaign, announcing a lobby of Parliament on December 12.