Cheers to longer hours

GOVERNMENT plans to extend pub opening hours in England and Wales by one hour until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays have received a big cheer from regular pub-goers.

Three-quarters of those questioned in a survey said the proposals, announced by the Home Office last week, were a good idea. Just under one-third wanted to see the extension applied to the rest of the week.

However, the planned deregulation was condemned by Alcohol Concern which said the problems of binge drinking and drunken violence at closing time would not be solved.

The survey, of nearly 1,000 adults who drink in a pub at least once a month, found that other initiatives to relax licensing rules, especially the recent move to all-day opening, made almost no difference to the amount of time they spent in pubs. It also found a high level of customer satisfaction, despite the British pub's image of being noisy, overcrowded and prone to tasteless refits. More than half of those questioned said that overall standards were improving.

Perhaps the most surprising finding was an 85 per cent approval rating for the general quality of food on offer; only 4 per cent thought it poor.

There is also evidence that satellite television may not be the draw for drinkers that pay-TV operator BSkyB claims. Although two out of five men said they watched satellite TV in pubs, only 11 per cent said it was the main reason for going to their local in the first place.

One-third of women cited live entertainment as the attraction most likely to prompt a pub visit, compared with 21 per cent of men.

"It suggests that women regard going to the pub as an occasion, whereas men still see it as a refuge," said Mike Morgan, a spokesman for Carling, which commissioned the report, to be published in tomorrow's issue of the Publican trade newspaper.

Opinions were sharply divided on whether to allow children into pubs, with only a narrow majority in favour. The greatest reluctance to let children in came from the youngest and oldest groups of drinkers.

The pub-goers surveyed were also evenly split on the question of opening no-smoking pubs, but very few respondents wanted to see smoking banned altogether.

Hopes of longer drinking hours sent shares in Bass, the brewer which owns Carling, racing to an all-time high of 763p on Friday. Other leisure stocks, such as bookmaker Stanley Leisure, also benefited from moves to relax gaming rules and cut betting duty.