In the last couple of weeks, I have been running a public poll on my Facebook page to choose the best pub in Chester. Each year, MPs are asked to make a nomination for the Parliamentary Pub of the Year and I thought this would be a good way to gauge public interest.

The final vote came after I had asked a couple of weeks ago for nominations from across the city.  The two with the most support were The Saddle on Grosvenor Street in town and The Little Oak on Boughton.

In a very tight race, The Oak topped the poll.

It is clear from the comments that people left when they voted, how attached we can get to our local pub and how important the Landlord is to the pub’s character – both Leigh at The Saddle and Chris at The Oak (and their staff) are obviously very popular.

I am certain, that pubs still play a central role in the community.

We saw this a couple of years ago, when The Centurion in Vicars Cross closed down.  A strong campaign by local people led to its re-opening and it is still thriving today as a community-owned pub. It also helped that the pub chain that owned ‘The Cenny’, Admiral Taverns, is based in Chester and consistently wins awards for being the most responsible pub chain company – so they were willing to help.

Despite their importance to the community, these are tough times in the pub game and hundreds of pubs are still closing every month around the country.  They face tough competition from the big supermarket chains and a difficult business rates regime.   Ironically, the higher a pub’s sales, the higher the rates they have to pay – it seems unfair to penalise them for doing well.

This is another reason why we need to reform the way business rates work.

Nevertheless, I was taken aback by the number of people who took part in the poll – several thousand in just a few days – but I shouldn’t have been surprised, because it is clear that people feel very loyal to their favourite pub.

So, at a time when our country is divided on a wide range of issues, a lot of people will take comfort that local pubs are still bringing people together – to enjoy a drink and maybe some food, but only in moderation of course.

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