I’ve backed the campaign to protect pubs in Hampstead and across Camden as Assets of Community Value. This status, introduced under the Conservative government’s Localism Act 2011, makes it harder to change the use of premises or ownership or premises that can be demonstrated to give particular value to the community. Hampstead’s lost too many pubs already, and we should preserve the ones that remain.

But we should also support them. This can be in two ways:

Financial incentives

As much as I like ACV status, there’s a big problem with it economically and as an economist, this worries me. You’re saying to a freeholder, “If you make your premises nice and lovely and useful to the local community, we’ll make it harder for you to sell it and thus reduce its value.” Now, that doesn’t sound like much of an incentive to be useful to the local community.

Being an authentic asset of community value – in the real sense, not the legal sense, is tough. Steve Coxshall at the Duke of Hamilton on New End has spent a huge amount of effort (and his own money) coming up with ways to make the Duke stand out. It’s not only the cheapest pint for miles around, but it’s well-decorated, it has the Rabbithole Theatre round back, he’s tried food stalls, and so on. We want all pubs to put in that effort, and we have to incentivise it.

Business Rates are effectively a tax on commercial land prices. Economically, there are pros and cons to it as a method of raising money, but in places like Hampstead, they’re a huge outgoing for businesses. Reducing it for ACVs would help incentivise leaseholders to put the long yard in, as Steve has, and compensate for lower land values for freeholders.

Sadly, having looked into it, under the current law, that’s not possible. Broadly speaking, Business Rates can only be reduced for charities or other non-profits (ie not pubs), businesses with a rateable value below £15,000 (ie very few premises in Camden), essential services in rural areas (ie not Camden), or business relocating to enterprise zones (ie not Camden).

I think introducing a relief for ACVs this is a neat solution to the downsides of awarding ACV status and makes everyone a winner: preserving pubs and encouraging freeholders and leaseholders to put time into make them great. I will be lobbying government to try to deliver this change in the law.

Update: After an exchange of emails with the Department for Communities & Local Government, it emerged that the above was based on out-of-date information. The law changed in 2011 to give Camden the general power to grant Rates relief: a change not reflected in legislation.gov.uk’s online version of the Act. I have given an update here and will be pushing for Camden to use its powers.

Actually going to the pub

Far too many people like the idea of pubs, but don’t actually go. I kind of get that – we’re London, we have everything on our doorstep, and it’s not like the boozer in a small village that’s the hub of everything, right?

Wrong. Local pubs are an essential way of stopping all the social activity draining away from Hampstead. Without them, people would find it hard to meet friends and neighbours in the area, the centre of social gravity would move towards central London.

I find myself in Hampstead’s pubs quite a lot, spending time in The Flask, The Duke of Hamilton, The Horseshoe, The Garden Gate, The Holly Bush, and The Stag all on a regular basis: for socialising or for meeting constituents and colleagues. If you want to keep our locals open, you have to use them yourself – that is not negotiable and not a responsibility that can be waived by signing a petition.

To that end, Hampstead & Kilburn Conservatives will soon begin having fortnightly meet-ups in pubs across the constituency, with the Duke of Hamilton being the regular haunt in Hampstead (first one on 19 July), but also with locations in Belsize Park, West Hampstead, and Kensal Rise. See Hampstead & Kilburn Conservatives’ website for more details.

For more about my campaign to support local businesses, click here.