Saturday, 31 March 2012

From Each According To Their Means ...

Marxism may truly be out of fashion but the loose translation of Marx's 
  "Jeder nach seinen Fähigkeiten, jedem nach seinen Bedürfnissen!" 
by old school Socialists as "from each according to their means, to each according to their needs" has always seemed a reasonable enough approach to social and economic responsibility in a 'modern, civilised' society. 

The "Tesco Tax" being introduced in Northern Ireland this weekend is a bold statement by its community  leaders that large businesses including retailers such as Tesco should start paying a little more to the communities they 'serve'. In light of the Portas Review of Britain's high streets and the effect that large out of town retail developments have had on town centres it's only right that the balance is redressed to help small businesses by redistributing the burden of business rates from those least able to pay to those most able to pay. And oh what joy that it's to be introduced on April 1st!

Whilst this is a welcome move for some small businesses more needs to be done to redress the balance between other sectors of the high street and the disparity in business rates- the iniquitous way that pubs are treated compared to other retail businesses. 
The Valuation Office uses a combination of Fair Maintainable Trade, open market rents and the type of services the pub offers (such as food or sports screenings) to calculate the rateable value. The same government agency assesses shops and other businesses solely on the physical area that the business occupies (less allowances for service areas such as toilets and stairwells) with no assessment of what level of trade a "competent operator" running whichever kind of business would generate. 

Another inconsistency is that holiday lettings accommodation have allowable deductions for repairs and maintenance, water rates, depreciation on fixtures and fittings and even the TV Licence! No such allowances are made for pubs (or for that matter shops). And I'll never believe a 'poor farmer' again when their land and most of their business related buildings are exempt from business rates.

Many small pubs (and hence small businesses) occupy roughly the same footprint as their retail neighbours and yet have rateable values significantly more than their counterparts. For instance in my last pub, where we occupied half a building (two of our four floors being the private accommodation on which we also paid Council Tax) the business rates, by dint of the multiplier, for our 'retail' business were 10 times more than that of the non-licensed retailer who occupied the other half of the premises.

Now add in the duties that are attached to the products that pubs sell (and enough of this has been written here and elsewhere) and any reasonable person would start to ask 'why are pubs so disproportionately taxed?' No doubt the answers will be that pubs use more resources such as the police and do more social harm as purveyors of the demon drink. But hang on aren't we already paying for that with duty? Won't some of us be paying for that with the Late Night Levy? 

Isn't it time that there was a complete overhaul of the business rates system? No, it's time to scrap them altogether and tax all businesses in the same way ... from each according to its means, i.e. from their profits. 

Think of the money that could be saved by reducing the Valuation Office's activities with respect to business rates, as an executive agency of HMRC it's officers could be assigned to other duties such as investigating tax avoidance and evasion ... but that's probably too simple a solution for 'Sir Humphrey' and his board even though HMRC's Vision Statement includes this statement:

"We will close the tax gap, our customers will feel that the tax system is simple for them and even-handed"

 (For advice on Business Rates read the article on the How To Run A Pub website)

Sunday, 25 March 2012

Breaking news ... London man set to lose job due to minimum pricing ...

"Re-shuffle, what re-shuffle?"
If there's one job loss that I shan't mourn brought on by this administration's disconnected, disjointed and misinformed Alcohol Strategy it will be that of the Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley.

As reported in the redoubtable Independent Lansley is said "to be furious that David Cameron has overruled his concerns over the legality, morality and effectiveness of the proposal designed to tackle Britain's binge-drinking culture. It left Mr Lansley looking isolated and sparked suggestions he will lose his job in the next reshuffle."

Let's just analyse some keywords in that report:

Legality ... I am sure that 'Europe' will have something to say about minimum pricing at some point ... good job the Treasury has all that above inflation alcohol duty escalator money to burn when they appoint a veritable army of high-paid lawyers to defend its decision when it is challenged in the courts.

Morality ... allowing (along with the previous administration) certain elements of the off-trade to continually flout the principle of "responsible retailing" and the four licensing objectives in the Licensing Act, then take it out on the majority of consumers who "drink responsibly" especially those on low incomes ... but let's face it the 'undeserving poor' don't deserve a pint at the end of a hard days graft.

Effectiveness ... unless the minimum unit price is set well above the currently mooted level of 40p it just won't work. Put it to something like £1.20 a unit and the disparity between off-trade pricing and on-trade pricing would all but disappear. There would be no incentive to drink at home when the price one pays in the supermarket is the same as in the pub ... the latter of which, of course, on the whole provides a safe controlled environment for social drinking. (Note to Georgie Porgie ... here's a bit of joined up thinking ... think of the increased corporation tax and VAT this would generate ... gotta pay for all those lawyers!)

Designed ... this implies some sort of intelligence and forethought, something that is clearly not evident in the Alcohol Strategy, unless it has been a carefully crafted 'knee-jerk reaction' to certain reports about the rise in liver disease or hospital admissions .

Isolated ... this will be the feeling a lot of publicans get when the staff and customers have all departed for the night and the long dark night of the soul is upon them. A little reported consequence of this administration's mismanagement of the alcohol has been to further diminish the sustainability of thousands of tied community pubs by steadfastly defying the 'will of parliament' over regulation of the pubcos. As more and more pubs go to the wall, less and less 'safe places' are available for 'responsible drinking' ... let alone the costs in terms of ruined lives and increased benefit costs. Isolated? That'll be the solitary ounce of common sense the Cabinet share between them.

So don't spare a thought for Lansley, it would seem the majority in the NHS won't, he'll be fine with a couple of well paid directorships in the health provision industry ... save your compassion for the ordinary folk of this country who are just trying to make a living and have a pint and a natter come knocking off time.

P.S. Note to picture editor of the Independent - how about using a bottle of wine or spirits next time you run a piece on alcohol and save the images of beer for beer related stories - you lazy git!

Friday, 23 March 2012

Lies Damned Lies and Statistics, Part 3 or

Minimum Unit Price … MUP … a MUPpet initiative from a Muppet Administration.

Well the media has had a field day with David Cameron's announcement of minimum pricing for alcohol, whipped into a frenzy by the likes of Theresa May's pathetic attempt to divert attention from the Budget and divert the news cycle away from the Granny Grab tax changes.

A Department of Health Press release for the day estimated that reducing the number of units of alcohol sold by 1 billion would save a 1,000 lives a year and the Health Secretary announced that 
“Last year there were 1.2 million admissions to hospital associated with alcohol.”

HMG's pincer movement in the battle against alcohol abuse of the MUP (at a stupidly low level of 40p … see my earlier thoughts) and the Public Health Responsibility Deal an arrangement with the big drinks manufacturers to cut the strength of various lines of beer, wine and cider is typical of the the disjointed thinking of this administration. 

The press release came with a plethora of headline grabbing statistics pointing to or further alerting us to the demon drink … but is this the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

Andrew Lansley's quote is a classic piece of political spin 1.2 million hospital admissions doesn’t mean that the same number of people are in A&E etc because of alcohol, as anyone who has been admitted to hospital whilst managing a health problem several times means the absolute number of patients will always be less than the number of recorded admissions.

You also have to take into account the way that admissions are recorded and the way that NHS statisticians manipulate these figures anecdotal evidence collected by FactCheck suggests that "analysts decided that a certain fraction of people who, say, fall over and twist their ankle, do so because they are drunk."

They go on to say "what the analysts do next is to assign a value based on the estimated likelihood of a certain percentage of injuries or illnesses being caused or exacerbated by alcohol to every patient. So if you fall over and twist your ankle for whatever reason you become a fraction – 0.22 per cent of a single drunk patient. And that number is then multiplied by all the people admitted to hospital for falls. It follows that, if the total number of patients admitted to hospital goes up, then the portion of those admissions theoretically attributed to alcohol automatically goes up too."

Since when does this equate to 1.2 million admissions related to alcohol? They don't as the NHS has stated that only 25% of "alcohol related admissions" were "wholly attributable to alcohol consumption". In the 2010 figures this meant 265,000 not 1.2 million! Further NHS reports also show that only of these admissions only 25% of those were attributed to a "primary diagnosis" as an alcohol specific condition. (For those of you without a calculator to hand this is just over 68,000).

Having looked at these figures I have decided that the rest of HMG's claims about fewer deaths probably won't stand up either, no so no need to spend hour upon hour trawling the net.  

What I did look at is the Introduction to the Government's Alcohol Strategy as it claims this startling piece of information:

but hides the Office of National Statistics reported change in alcohol consumption (or "clearances" as it calls them) in the UK as percentage changes recently: 2005/06 -2%, 2006/07 -1.3%, 2007/08 +1.2% and finally 2008/09 -7.2%.

So starting from a base point in 2005 alcohol consumption over the period to 2009 actually fell by a cumulative figure of 9.16% … okay so we pissed it up since the fifties but consumption in this country is falling.

Don't be fooled by the New Puritans or their political mouth-pieces and make sure you tell your customers the truth when they discuss it with you … as they surely will.

In the interim did you know that you can apply for a free £85 worth of resources, including a natty "Unit Measure Cup" to illustrate to your staff and customers what different drinks equate to in layperson's terms?

Go to DrinkAware to take up this offer get more information that will help you be a more responsible retailer than you probably are already.

Finally a huge thank you to Patrick Worral (Fact Check) for putting this train of thought in motion.

Now if Waldorf and Statler  (Cameron and Clegg) can just provide me with another opportunity to reference them as Muppets ... still that shouldn't be too long, should it eh?

Sunday, 18 March 2012

The Aye's Have It ...

There you go Georgie Boy ... COMRES voting intention poll (page 29) says 54% of us reckon you should scrap the Beer Duty Escalator to help save pubs ... gonna ignore this? Because I reckon if the Health profession can get 100 GPs to stand against Conservative and LibDem candidates in the next General Election then the Brewing and Pub Industry could field another 100

Even your own statistics must prove the diminishing return of increases to Beer Duty so what's stopping you?

As for minimum pricing the jury's out ... 44% say yes to introducing it, 41% say no ... I reckon unless it's sufficiently high enough to level the playing field between the huge irresponsible retailing practices of the major supermarkets then don't bother ... depends, of course, how much your parties are in thrall to them.

As for you lot out there in the trade (or drinking in our pubs)  ... still time for you and your customers and your friends to sign the epetition by clicking here 

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Minimum Pricing ... the silver bullet?

Just doing a trawl of the big three supermarkets this morning and average price for can of Stella (4.8% ABV) is 91 pence, which, according to DrinkAware's online calculator is 2.1 units, therefore unit price 43p. (I'm sure that's the math ...)

Similarly from the respective retailer's budget brands, Vodka, 70 cl (28 x 25 ml shots – normal pub measure) average price 33p a shot, again DrinkAware says that a 25 ml shot is 0.9 units, so it’s 37p per unit.

The story is the same for white wine (Chenin Blanc, ABV 12%, 125 ml glass) comes out at 61p a glass which at 1.5 units is a unit price of 41p.

Mean average for all the drinks? 40p a unit.

So minimum pricing at 40p won’t really have that much effect in terms of this type of drink, where it will have an effect is in some of the very cheap cider, for instance Frosty Jack (7.5% ABV) 2 litres at Tesco £3.79, DrinkAware says a 2 litre bottle is 15 units, therefore unit price is 25p.

I suspect that the majority of “binge” drinkers, who pre-load before hitting town (and on-trade venues) will be drinking the former drinks at 40p a unit already. 

Now if the minimum price was pegged against the national average on-trade price it might make a difference, for instance the average price of a pint in UK (according to is £2.90, which would make 4% Stella in the pub £1.26 per unit.

I would suspect that simple Keynesian economic theory of supply and demand would kick in here if unit price was to triple for off-trade (to bring it into line with on-trade) and demand might fall.

I'll not go into the ins and outs of health issues relating to alcohol consumption, not being a health professional, apart from saying that "moderation" is probably a good mantra (as with most things in life).

However, much has been written about the correlation between alcohol pricing and anti-social behaviour and as an industry veteran of over 30 years I have first hand experience of this issue. In reply to an enquiry I made about research into this issue, Kent Matthews, The Sir Julian Hodge Professor of Banking & Finance Cardiff Business School (who has researched this) has this to say:
"The relationship between alcohol and violence is well documented in the medical literature but the causation between alcohol consumption and violence is difficult to prove.
Some violent people drink a lot, others drink in anticipation of a fight (football violence) and then others will have characteristics that are correlated with both drinking and violence. Therefore there may be 2-way causation between drinking and violence.
The thing about using the price of alcohol (beer and lager as proxies) is that the causation must be one-way. Violent injury cannot cause the price of beer (and lager) but the price of beer (and lager) affects consumption which could cause violent injury.
So using the price of beer as a determinant of violent injury (controlling for other factors) provides a stronger argument for causation." 
Or put simply "the more you pay for beer the less you drink and the less you scrap". 

You, along with the rest of us, have to make your own mind up about this, I can only speak from 30+ years experience in the Licensed Trade and say that headline grabbing by politicians and health groups will not solve the problem … until we have better alcohol education we’ll not make any inroads into this societal problem.

As I reported on this blog last year The Alcohol Educations Research Council's (AERC) main aims are to:  
“Generate and disseminate research based evidence to inform and influence policy and practice” and “to develop the capacity of people and organisations to address alcohol issues.”
Both worthy aims and the AERC has, during the last five years, concentrated on family interventions, community action programmes and screening plus brief interventions for alcohol misuse. They are a repository of a vast library of reports and research into the effects of alcohol that both government and industry readily draw upon. 

The Coalition’s response to this sterling work? Turn it into a charitable trust and we know how well charities do during hard times – especially if they're not the cuddly / furry types. Good call Mssrs Clegg and Cameron; at least they’ll be able to use dogma and prejudice to determine their alcohol harm reduction policy without the inconvenience of a publicly funded body calling them to account. After all the AERC will just be another bleeding heart charity soon!

It really is time for some "joined up thinking" on the issue of alcohol (ab)use but as with much this administration is undertaking "joined up" clearly isn't in their vocabulary and minimum pricing (especially at the level mooted) on its own simply isn't going to work. One thing I do know, however, is that demonising drink(ers) and pubs won't help and allowing the off-trade to continue to flout the Licensing Act's provisions about responsible retailing won't help either. 

I view some of the off-trade much as I view unscrupulous arms dealers in this respect, as long as there's an End User Certificate in place (such as a Premises Licence) what actually happens to the products they sell, how they are used and by whom are of absolutely no consequence to them.

To quote Yuri Orlov (a character in the Film "Lord of War"): 
"There are two types of tragedies in life. One is not getting what you want, the other is getting it"

For the truth about how much we, as a nation drink Channel Four has done a Fact Check

Vote in the poll on Minimum Pricing - Poll closed 75% said it won't work!

Friday, 9 March 2012

Scrap The Beer Duty Escalator

Much is (and has been) written about this by more erudite obervers than me (and commented on by others), so in the spirit of dumbing down and the adage of "a picture paints a thousand words":

(Both courtesy of the BBPA)

BBPA says that 20,000 are employed in the UK brewing industry = 420,000 jobs altogether ...


Sign The epetition By Clicking Here  

You can download the graphics (above) on the Download page on this blog

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Mad Dogs and Englishmen ... well Scots anyway ...

It doesn’t usually take me this long to write a piece and my friends will tell you that I'm seldom lost for words but I witnessed something extraordinary last Tuesday and the truth is I wasn't sure if it was to my liking. Now I've had a couple of days to cogitate, ruminate and procrastinate ...

I've never been to the opening of an Apple Store, but I imagine the zeal and enthusiasm shown by Max and Johnny from Brew Dog at the official launch of the "dissident" brewer's newest bar in Nottingham and the response (whoops, cheers and lots of clapping) from the 120 or so attending the event would make the late Steve Jobs smile.

Brew Dog Nottingham, with it's brash electric blue exterior signage and stripped back brick interior walls is on the first floor of a converted factory building on the edge of Nottingham's Lace Market area. Sharing a street with the renowned Broadway Arts Centre, Edin's Restaurant, Lee Rosy's Tea Shop and the world's smallest commercial cinema the Screen Room (seats 21!) (Amendment 28/5/12 - closed down last November! Oooops!)

On offer is the full panoply of Brew Dog's output of "revolutionary" craft beers (10 in total). The original Punk IPA, I say original it was reduced in strength after a public vote, summer yellow with citrus & passion fruit top notes and a kick on the swallow. You can really taste the New Zealand Nelson Sauvon hops, which, according to Max and the Brew Dog booklet (download by clicking here) are chucked in by the bucketful.

Right the way through to Paradox Jura at a hefty 10% and best drunk in the branded ⅓ rd pint glasses with Dark Crystal Caramalt and Chocolate Malt that apart from its lovely dark colour put me in mind of a very sweet barley wine only with the twist of cranberries and the woodiness of the oak chips it is aged in.

With an emphasis on the beer, and with these guys it really is all about the beer, the whole décor of the place, the minimal food offering (a choice of six meat or cheese boards) and the high stools and tables Brew Dog Nottingham only just escapes the label of a "vertical drinking establishment". Mind you have any more than 25ml of End of History (bottled and wrapped in road kill squirrel skin) and you wouldn't be vertical for long - it comes in at 55%!!!

You have to hand it to Brew Dog they know how to run a PR machine in this digital age, this quote from their press pack, however, rankled a little as an adopted citizen of Nottingham: "Brew Dog calls for an end to shallow marketing and mass-produced beers in a city ‘flooded with the mediocre". Obviously they've not tried any of the great beers from Castle Rock, Mallard, Magpie or Alcazar.

In response to the "mediocrity" and "brainless marketing" endemic in Nottingham Brew Dog produced a very limited edition Hops Kill Robin Hood, Imperial  Red Ale. This 7.8% beer was only available for the first week of the Nottingham branch's first week, so sorry folks if you haven't tried it by now then you've missed it.
Apart from this minor gripe I can't find much wrong with Brew Dog's latest offering and with 10 sites planned for 2012 it would seem that the "revolution" is set to spread around the country. According to Max and Cam (Brew Dog's PR) the good folk of Tokyo might also be enjoying a taste of  Aberdeen. Brew Dog's excellent little booklet - Beer School - should come in handy for them.

It was as my party was leaving, having enjoyed their hospitality that a thought came to mind that despite the generational difference (Brew Dog really are the brewers of the Facebook generation) that they will probably do a great deal to keep British brewing ahead of the game and even though I was weaned on cask conditioned ales their beers are as good as any "real" ale, a fact that some CAMRA purists should note.

Now if we can just swing a 'no' vote in the Scottish independence referendum …