On January 22nd, CAMRA Durham hosted a Zoom chat with Richard Holden, the MP for North West Durham, so that we could discuss his stance on all things pub-related and what could be done to promote and protect the industry, particularly during the current pandemic situation. In an effort to get as many views as possible without getting too crowded, taking part were Paul Dobson, Dave Thornton (CAMRA Durham committee chair and pubs officer respectively), Sandra and Dave Wilkinson (of the Grey Horse, Consett and CAMRA members), Susie Mansfield (of the Station House Durham and Fram Ferment, Framwellgate, and CAMRA member), and Doug Oliver from Mr Holden’s constituency office.

Richard opened by explaining his general stance, which included his co-ordinating a cross-party group campaigning to get a reduction in beer duty. Over the next hour, several other points were discussed, including the situation regarding pubs being unable to sell takeaway beer while supermarkets can, the Pubco attitude to tenancies, and the importance of pubs as part of the community. He also said that he’s pushing for a return of Consett ales to the Strangers Bar in Parliament, and offered his support in taking our concerns to Parliament in partnership with other local MPs of all parties.

Since the call, Mr Holden wrote to the Chancellor on January 26th and explained the points we discussed, asking for answers on:

  • Large pub chains, like Wetherspoon’s and Greene King, potentially increasing the size of their estates by buying up struggling pubs and thus creating a monopoly situation.
  • Small breweries being beyond the scope of current support packages
  • A reduction in on-licence beer duty
  • The unfavourable tenancy agreements forced on publicans by Pubcos
  • The unique role pubs play in the community, and the potential to provide protection similar to that given to the last bank in town.

Overall, Mr Holden appeared genuine in his desire to support pubs, and he has mentioned them in parliament several times. He is also known to frequent the Grey Horse and the Steel Club in Consett and the Black Lion in Wolsingham, so it’s not just lip service. As a relatively new MP, he’s certainly trying to represent both the general issues and how they specifically affect his constituency. It’s good for CAMRA Durham and our publicans to be seen and be part of the conversation with politicians, decision makers, and influencers. We are realistic about how MPs' inputs are just one part of the machinations of government, but we feel it important to remind MPs and government that we are real people and that pubs are central to the real ale and cider industry and are also essential community assets; in the long term that’s important.

In the coming weeks we intend to have further such meetings with our local MPs and hope to hold a branch meeting at which all members can represent their views to an MP from within our branch area.