The chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) is to leave the group, as lobbying to reduce duty tax on beer reaches a crucial period.

Rob Hayward is to leave with immediate effect after 10 years with the group, the trade body announced late yesterday (9 March).

It said that Hayward "has decided that now is the time to leave in order to allow him to more actively pursue his political interests".

Hayward's departure comes as the BBPA ramps up its campaign for greater government support for the beer and pub sector. Senior ministers met concerned MPs and industry representatives last week, a little more than a month before the 2009 Budget announcement, which is currently set to include a 2% above inflation tax rise on alcoholic drinks.

Tax on beer rose by 18% last year and is set to rise 2% above inflation for the next four years.

BBPA figures show that an average 40 pubs are closing down every week, with beer sales at their lowest since the 1930s.

When asked about the timing of Hayward's departure, a BBPA spokesperson told just-drinks that the body "has nothing to add to the statement we issued yesterday".

The BBPA said of Hayward's departure: "The BBPA would like to place on record their thanks for his contribution to the success of the Association and wish him well as he embarks upon this new challenge."

Hayward will continue to advise the BBPA until a replacement is found, the BBPA said.