A leading organisation behind the growth of co-operative pubs is calling on policymakers to support a struggling industry.
The Plunkett Foundation, which helps communities to rescue their local pubs, said the sector’s growth could be inhibited without wider support.
Figures from the Campaign for Real Ale revealed that 28 pubs closed each week over a nine-month period in 2013. During the same period, Plunkett received 93 enquiries and seven pubs opened their doors.
In total, there are currently 27 co-operative pubs trading, with none that have closed, and a further 152 projects are in the pipeline across the UK.
In its Co-operative Pubs 2014 report, launched at Parliament, Plunkett warned that this progress could stall without resources for a dedicated programme to support the growing demand from communities looking to save their local pub.
This must include enterprise support, community development assistance and access to finance, with the use of community shares encouraged, the report added. The programme must also be able to service the demand from communities, rather than operating on a competitive, some-win, some-lose basis.
The average time it takes for a co‑operative pub project to start trading is 10 months, but the registration process for a pub as an asset of community value only gives a community six months to buy the premises. To solve this problem, Plunkett wants policymakers in England to increase the protected period to a minimum of 10 months. It also said loopholes should be closed that allow pubs sold as a going concern to bypass the powers.
In Wales, Plunkett calls for the government to consider enacting relevant powers under the Localism Act to enable communities to register Assets of Community Value. And the Scottish Government is being urged to use the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Bill to to give more power to communities that want to take on their local pub.
The report also calls on community development finance institutions to continue lending to more co‑operative pubs when other methods of raising capital leave a gap in finance. Sums between £20,000 to £50,000 can often be a serviceable loan.
Peter Couchman, chief executive of the Plunkett Foundation, said: “Pubs are a national institution. For too long communities have felt powerless to prevent the closure of pubs that are important to them. Our new report shows that 2013 was a breakthrough year for co-operative pubs, with record numbers opening. From small villages to cities, communities are forming co-operatives to save their local and we’re delighted to celebrate this during Co-operatives Fortnight.”
The community pubs minister, Brandon Lewis added: “Pubs are at the heart of villages and towns across the country and a lot of hard work has been put in by communities to protect them from sell-off, with well over 400 pubs now listed as community assets.
“Their efforts have been backed up by terrific support from organisations like the Plunkett Foundation. Their advice line, backed by my department, provides a wealth of advice and information for communities looking to take over their local, which is helping to create a growing number of thriving co-operative businesses run by and for the local community.”