The nation's weekend paper of record (the News Of The World) reports that Gordon Brown has appointed his former PPS and current Housing Minister at DCLG, John Healey MP, as his 'Minister for Pubs'.
In this role, Healey will head up a task force of five ministers to tackle the problems of pub closures. His group will meet for the first time tomorrow to scope out an initial pub survival blueprint, which might include business tax breaks, relaxation of planning laws and a right for tenants to buy out closure-threatened houses from "big breweries", though I'd expect pubcos to be included as well. We're informed that he expects to be pressured to prevent 'Badger' Darling from lumping more tax on beer in the next budget (assuming Badger will be delivering it).
Healey descibes himself as a 'beer man', though there's nothing on his personal website about this passion, and he isn't on the All-Parliamentary Beer Group as far as I can tell.
It'll be interesting to see how his brief is remitted. He will sit in Cabinet, for what that's worth, but will be be able to press the Treasury on beer duty? Will he be able to prevent misuse of restrictive covenants when pubs are put on the market? Where will he stand on alcohol misuse and harm reduction initiatives coming out of the Home Office?
He's apparently planning to hold a meeting of his Task Force in a pub, which smells of a PR stunt to me. The government's track record on sleight-of-hand initiatives and dead-end gimmicks is well enough known to wonder "why now". However, the next few days and weeks could be interesting...