VILLAGE pubs could receive public money in recognition of their role at the heart of community life.
Government ministers say they want landlords to apply for grants in recognition of their role as community meeting places. In many areas, the pub is the last amenity in villages which have lost post offices, schools and village halls.
But the British Beer and Pub Association warned pub closures in Britain accelerated to five a day during the first half of this year, with the rate of closure now 18 times faster than in 2005.
Such piecemeal funding would be a "drop in the ocean" in the current economic climate, it said.
For pubs to be eligible for funding from the public purse, they must offer new services for local people. In many cases, publicans have already ploughed their own money into extra services like running a shop, post office counter or offering meeting rooms for parish councils, clubs and mother-and-toddler groups.
However, grants could provide up to half of the money needed to get projects off the ground. Insiders believe grants of around £5,000 could be on offer.
Now local government minister John Healey has written to all councils urging them to ensure they are doing all they can to keep pubs open.
Last night, he said town halls already had a number of powers they could use to support communities. "As elected leaders, it is right they use these and take decisions in the best interests of their areas. I have said I want to see more councils using these powers creatively to meet the needs of their communities. That is what strong and effective leadership is about.
"If there is a good case, then there is no reason why they shouldn't support local shops, pubs or other local businesses.
"But the important thing is that they engage local people in this and explain their decisions to the community. And action they do take must be done within competition rules and within the limits of their powers."
John Longden, campaign director for the Pub is the Hub initiative, said there was growing interest from local authorities – including some in the Westcountry – in helping village pubs. "We are lobbying all the time to try to get rural businesses supported in providing rural services. Communities have been able to access grants but businesses have been unable to. We would welcome more Government support."
Powers available to councils include the Local Government Act which allows them to do anything they consider likely to promote or improve the economic, social or environmental well-being of their area. The power enables local authorities to improve the quality of life, opportunity, and health of their local communities.
The Government is also keen to raise awareness of the Village Shop Rate Relief Scheme, introduced a decade ago, allowing councils to charge lower business rates for last-surviving small shops, pubs and petrol stations in rural villages.