Cheap booze?
Sound as a pound!

Shock, horror! A pub in the North East of England will soon start selling pints of beer for £1.50. Rather than greet this keen pricing as good news, however, the reaction has been a mixture of snobbishness and public-health scaremongering.

PoundPub will be a distinctly ‘no frills’ operation. For example, there won’t be Sky Sports so that punters can watch the football on the big screen. Instead, the emphasis will be on getting ‘more round for your pound’, in the words of Mike Wardell, director of the pub’s owners, Here for Your Hospitality Ltd. (Even Wardell admitted the pub’s slogan was pretty cheesy.)

However, Stockton-on-Tees councillors are not impressed. The council is currently spending £38million to give the town centre a facelift in an effort to attract a better class of nightlife. Ken Lupton, leader of the council’s Tory group, told the Daily Mail: ‘An individual pub with such a pricing policy would only be detrimental to the general improvement the council hopes to achieve with their significant investment in the high street.’ Another Stockton councillor, Phil Dennis, told the Metro: ‘I have doubts and concerns about the ability of such a venue to control the environment. They are effectively selling at a point where the quality of clientele will likely match the price of the product on offer.’

While Stockton’s civic leaders were fretting about riff-raff coming into town for a cheap beer, anti-alcohol campaigners were fretting about the impact on the townsfolk’s livers. ‘We need to wake up to the problems that cheap alcohol is causing both in the short and long term’, said Colin Shevills, campaigner for the awareness group Balance. Even PoundPub’s proprietors buy into this line, promising to take part in ‘safe drinking’ campaigns and check for ID from anyone who looks under 25.

The reality is that PoundPub will have a limited appeal. The stripped-down decor and facilities will be a turn-off to customers who have enough cash to afford to drink in more salubrious surroundings. But underpinning the criticisms is an elitist view that boozers should be regulated by those who know better. Drinkers, it seems, simply cannot be trusted not to get hammered, cause trouble or descend into alcoholism at the first sign of a cheap pint.

The real target audience for a place like PoundPub are the drinkers who have been forced out of other pubs by the high prices, in particular the older drinkers who no longer have working men’s clubs to go to. A cheap pub offers the option to stop drinking supermarket lager at home and interact with human beings in a social setting. For all the guff about the dangers of cheap booze, drinking in an environment where you might meet others and have someone tell you ‘you’ve had enough now’ is a useful alternative to drinking at home.

PoundPub may not prove to be a sustainable business model, but I’d rather have the choice – and so would many people in Stockton, I’ll bet. The snobs and the prohibitionists can sip on a rioja or a mineral water elsewhere.

Rob Lyons is associate editor at spiked.

For permission to republish spiked articles, please contact Viv Regan.

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