Minister throws £1m lifeline for struggling pubs – over a pint

By DAVID WOODING

HUNDREDS of pubs facing closure will be thrown a cash lifeline under Tory plans to support struggling communities.

A special £1 million fund will be set up to help local people launch takeover bids to keep their boozers open.

Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss told me of the plan over a glass at one of Westminster’s favourite watering holes.

The move is part of a package of measures to boost rural areas to be unveiled in the Conservatives’ election manifesto.

It would help protect up to 600 pubs which act as community hubs from being knocked down for developers or turned into housing or takeaways.

Tories will set up a “Last Pub in the Village” fund to help locals step in to save their favourite watering hole.

They will be able to apply for loans to pay for legal fees needed to stage a takeover or win a protection order.

Ms Truss said pubs in rural areas also act as job centres, information hubs and the backbone of sports teams.

She said: “Pubs can be a cornerstone of a community, especially in rural areas where they become an important focal point.

“People form lifelong friendships in village pubs, which bring people from all social backgrounds together.

“It’s important for country pubs to stay and that’s why we’re putting up the money to protect the last pub in the village.”

Ms Truss said a future Tory government would also impose a five-year freeze on licence fees for small community pubs – helping to cut their overheads.

She has by a community rescue of the King’s Arms, at Shouldham, Norfolk,  where villagers bought shares in the pub and volunteers carried out a refurb.

It is now a thriving community hub which provides school meals for local kids and serves pub grub in the evening.

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Sipping a glass of cider in the famous Red Lion on Whitehall, she added: “We’ve already done a lot for the great British pub by cutting beer duty three years in a row.

“This has protected an estimated 16,000 jobs and we want to build on that in the next parliament.

“Pubs are great places to drink responsibly in a social setting. They’re also good for tourism and can provide other services for the areas they serve.”

Last night the plans were welcomed by the pub and beer industry.

Keith Bott, managing director of Titanic Brewery, in Stoke-on-Trent, said: “This would be a massive boost for the pubs which are part and parcel of the British way of life.

“Hundreds of them are struggling so it is vital to do what we can to protect those which are an asset to their local community.

“Freezing licence fees would be a big help, too, as there are fears that some councils are using them as a cash cow at the expense of hard-hit pubs.”

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How 2 Jags bought 20,000 “ego” pens at our expense

By DAVID WOODING
JOHN Prescott has inked his high-spending show-off ways into political history – with a stash of “vanity” pens.
The former Deputy PM ordered 20,000 branded ballpoints costing taxpayers £3,450.
But there are so many that ministers are still stumbling over boxes of them SEVEN YEARS after he stood down.
Now civil servants have been ordered to STOP ordering fresh supplies until the Prezza pens are used up.
A source said: “What sort of an ego must you have to go out and order a job lot of pens with your own logo on them?
The horde was discovered when Communities Secretary Eric Pickles took over the Whitehall building once occupied by MrPrescott’s empire.
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The ballpoints are emblazoned with the legend “The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister” – and a picture of the department’s crest.
Brandon Lewis, a junior minister in the new Communities Department, said: “It is quite some legacy he has left.
“Even now, these pens serve to remind us of the sheer vanity, waste of John Prescott and his colleagues.
“It is sickening to think they were ordered at a time the last government was plunging the country into debt.”
A government spokesman said: “The new administration is encouraging staff to use up these pens to help reduce the need to buy stationery.”

Cuts and waste

By DAVID WOODING

GEORGE Osborne is wielding the axe again — with £9billion of savings in his sights.
It’s a relief that the Chancellor has ruled out further tax rises as a way to meet his targets.
And he is absolutely right to protect the security services and anti-terror cops from any more cuts.
Mr Osborne admits there are going to be tough decisions ahead as he digs deep into public spending.
He could make a start by turning his attention to the billions of pounds wasted in Whitehall.
For instance, there’s the Crown Prosecution Service which prints a million pieces of paper a day.
Or he could find out why it costs £30,000 a year to lock up a convict in some prisons and only £12,000 in others.
Mr Osborne won’t slash the bloated benefits bill any further — but only because the Lib Dems won’t let him.
He’s also facing resistance from at least four Cabinet ministers who say they’ve nowhere left to cut.
Perhaps he should remind them of his mantra: We’re all in this together.