As the Director of a community owned pub (The Gardeners Rest) in Sheffield, it was disheartening to read recently that 18 pubs a week are closing in Britain. I am acutely aware of the challenges of running a successful and profitable pub, whilst providing services that many customers expect; good beer, a good atmosphere, and though not in the case of the Gardeners, live football.
In an industry that is struggling, showing live football is an option that some publicans feel compelled to take in order to attract customers (though increasingly it is becoming a risk too far.) The cost of a Sky Sports package can exceed £20,000 or more depending on the size or location of the pub. “If I make a £1 profit from a pint I need to sell almost 20,000 extra pints yearly just to break even” a landlord was recently quoted in the Daily Star “and Sky doesn’t even have European games anymore.”
Given the desperate situation, its not surprising that occurrences of pubs being fined for screening Sky Sports illegally are increasing (in the past year pubs in Sheffield, Huddersfield, Birmingham, Stafford and Wolverhampton, Cleveland, Edinburgh, and Dundee among others have been issued with huge fines).
Towards the end of this June, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) announced that over 100 MPs had signed an Early Day Motion (EDM) lamenting the fact that pubs were closing. Tabled by Toby Perkins, the Chair of the All Party Group (APPG) on Pubs, the EDM promised to “enshrine the valuable role the great British pub plays in UK society,” and offer extra support. Recognising that numerous factors can lead to the closure of a pub, CAMRA have suggested that a cut to Beer Duty and a permanent Business Rate Relief for pubs should be included in the next budget.
I am fully behind this initiative, and welcome the support of MPs in helping to support the pub industry. One thing that really irritates me however is the fact that while pubs struggle to afford packages, a Freedom of Information request (F17-412) has revealed that both the House of Commons and the House of Lords receive Sky Sports 1, Sky Sports 2, and Sky Sports 3 as part of a Sky VIP package provided by Sky. This is provided to Parliament for no charge from Sky, and is broadcast on the Parliamentary Annunciator (an internal TV network). This means that wherever there is a TV screen (an MPs office, or in the subsidised pubs for example), an MP or parliamentary employee could be watching Sky Sports free of charge.
Many companies choose to have TV feeds in their offices, but have to pay for them. Indeed other government departments have recently had their Sky packages taken away. In 2014, the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling put an end to judges having free Sky TV in their lodgings. “Never mind badgers, foxes and unemployed migrants, it now seems to be open season on judges.”It’s the thin end of the wedge,” one judge told the Times. To lose your Sky sub is bad enough; to lose it a month before the start of England’s defence of the Ashes in Australia is insupportable.” If the Justice Department has lost its Sky Sports, why does the Parliament still have it?
At a time when publicans are struggling, I see it as morally wrong that MPs should receive Sky Sports free. If an MP wants to watch the football in their office, then they should pay a subscription for it like everyone else would have too. It is important for Parliament to explain how long Sky Sports has been broadcast free of charge in the House of Commons and House of Lords, the terms of the agreement and who instigated it, and how it can be justified.