The Government has told pub companies to relax the beer tie as part of a wide-ranging Government package to help struggling pubs.
The move, which was welcomed by many campaign groups, came as part of a 12-point action plan unveiled by new pubs minister John Healey.
In an announcement this morning, the Government said it had "thrown its weight behind" a Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee Report which recommended that the tie be relaxed.
The move means that licensees should offered the chance to opt out of the tie as part of the British Beer and Pub Association's (BBPA) industry code of practice. And those in the tie should be able to buy locally-sourced guest ales as well as their usual stock. If the industry does not fulfil its promise, the Government said it would legislate to open up the market.
Meanwhile the Government said it would move to ban ‘restrictive covenants' on pubs which pub companies use to prevent a property continuing as a pub after it is sold through the Sustainable Communities Act.
And councils will also be given new powers through the planning system to intervene before a pub is demolished - giving a pause to allow locals to have their say. Planning laws will also allow pubs to offer new ventures such as restaurants, gift shops and book shops without the need to seek approval from the council.
Pubs minister John Healey said: "This package of tough, practical measures aims to put some real support behind our community pubs, giving publicans more support to diversify and punters more choice. We need and can do more to support our pubs which can be at the heart of a local community
"Today's measures are a much needed shot in the arm for publicans in these tough times. They will make it easier to diversify, lower costs and cut red tape when it comes to branching out. It is also a boost for local communities, giving them a greater stake in the future of their local pubs often so important in bringing people together."
The package also includes £3.3m contribution to a pilot programme of 50 community-owned pubs through the Plunkett Foundation.
Around £1m in funding will be made available over the next three years to provide seven full-time advisors for the specialist business advice scheme ‘Pub is the Hub', which will now cover all areas of the country.
And a consultation is underway on proposals to cut the requirement for music licences to certain venues.
Mike Benner, chief executive of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) immediately welcomed the package: "This is a great day for people who care about the future of our community pubs. This inspired action plan could offer a lifeline to thousands of pubs and help communities stave off pub closures which threaten their quality of life and community well-being," he said.
Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Save the Pub Group said on Twitter that the announcement was "great news". "The game is up for the pubcos. This is a step forward in giving the pub back to the British people," he added.
Meanwhile Nick Bish, chief executive of the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) also welcomed the news but said the issue of cheap supermarket alcohol still needed to be addressed: "We are delighted that the Government has at last woken up to the social, economic and cultural importance of the UK's pubs and is taking us seriously as an industry.
"Pubs are not looking for a hand-out but they do need a hand up to ensure that they have the flexibility and freedom to retail profitably and responsibly. Today's announcement shows that the Government recognises that regulatory intervention may be required to deliver that fair and open market. We are disappointed, however, that there is no reference to the unfair competition pubs face from pocket money prices, deep discounting and irresponsible promotions in supermarkets."
By Neil Gerrard
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