PUBS are facing a “bleak” future without Government help, a Southampton MP warned – as she targeted greedy pub companies.
Conservative Caroline Nokes told ministers of a “long list” of popular local pubs that had been boarded up in recent years, depriving their communities.
And she highlighted the plight of one closed pub in particular – the Stoneham Arms, in Bassett – to call for tougher regulation against “possible abuses”.
Ms Nokes, the MP for Southampton North and Romsey, said the pub’s owner – Enterprise Inns – had insisted no publican wished to take over as its tenant.
Therefore, it was due to be converted to a Co-op store, even though there is another Co-op just a few doors away.
Ms Nokes said: “We cannot know how competitive those terms were, or indeed, what other bars there were to people seeking to run the premises as a pub.
“Nor can I judge how significantly the beer tie acted as a deterrent to potential publicans, but I am convinced it played a part.
“The tie, the nervousness with which publicans regard possible abuses of it, and the general uncertainty that exists in the industry as a whole have come together to present a very bleak picture.”
‘Fairness’ Protesting that publicans were struggling to “earn a decent income”, she added: “I believe that regulation is necessary.
“Those in the trade seek certainty, fairness and reassurance that the Government are on their side, to ensure that they can run their business models.
“The Stoneham Arms as a pub provided a meeting place for the community, and there are precious few such facilities left in Bassett.”
Campaigners have accused Enterprise Inns of ignoring a bid to save the pub, having struck a deal to convert it into a store.
Meanwhile, Itchen MP John Denham is leading calls for a temporary “freeze” to prevent sales of pubs going ahead while listing is considered.
And he has argued for the law to be changed so companies have to apply for planning permission for a change of use, allowing planners to intervene.
Ms Nokes’ call came during a Commons debate in which Labour called for landlords to be given the chance to opt out of contractual links of large pub companies.
The opposition demanded legislation in May’s Queen’s Speech to help landlords earning less than £10,000 a year – while tied into buying drinks at inflated prices.
In reply, Business Secretary Vince Cable denied he had kicked the issue into the long grass, having earlier launched a consultation on action against the pub companies.
Mr Cable said responses were still being evaluated, adding: “There is no attempt to delay on those grounds.
“We want to see action.”