Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Is this the alternative to Minimum Pricing?

Not In Ipswich ... not in a town near you soon?

Much has been written (on this blog) and elsewhere about the potential for Minimum Pricing to drive down incidence of problematic (ab)use of alcohol. Regular readers of this blog know full well my opinion … it won't work; they will also know my view that proper implementation of licensing law to force both on and off trade to be 'responsible retailers' is the route to take, if for no other reason than the legislation and machinery to enforce it are already in place (just not being used to full effect).

So it was interesting to read in today's Independent (and just now listening to the BBC) that Ipswich is rolling out their "Reducing The Strength Campaign" in a bid to remove 'super-strength' beers and ciders (above 6.5% ABV) from their micro-marketplace. So far 40% of off-licence outlets (including some of those most guilty of 'pocket-money pricing') have agreed to the initiative. The Independent implies that the murder of "four street drinkers … in the last three year" has, at least in part, prompted this action.

Ipswich and Suffolk Councils say:

"We are positive that the Reducing the Strength Campaign will have significant, long-lasting, positive effects for the people of Ipswich.
"The negative impacts associated with super strength alcohol are significant for the consumer and the wider community, but also for the public services who deal with the consequences.
"This campaign aims to take the problem away at the source.
"We hope that licensees will share our belief in the positives associated with becoming 'super strength free' and that they will recognise the huge benefits that can result from removing these products from their shelves.
"We are the first county in the country to launch a campaign of this kind, and we hope that with support from our off-licences, we can roll this out across Suffolk, and eventually offer the campaign as a model for public services across the UK."

Just a few questions on all this:

  1. Isn't it shameful that in order for both retailers and local licensing authorities to take action that four people have to be murdered first?
  2. What will happen if the remaining 60% resist, for some will as diminished supply in one sector of a market place is usually reciprocated in another section as consumer demand continues, this for the more unscrupulous will mean increased sales (and presumably increased profits). Will the licensing authorities seek to impose this as a licensing policy, that's if it was legal and not a 'restriction of trade'?
  3. If this is rolled out across the country by local or national politicians seeking a quick fix to the problem of binge drinking (always a vote winner that one) will it stop at the off-trade or will it then 'mission creep' into the on trade? Will the threshold of 6.5% ABV fall to encompass many beers and ciders sold in the responsible retailing environments of pubs?
  4. … and yet again, how come only beer and cider comes under the microscope? What about the cheap wine and spirits deals? Could it be that the good officers and councillors of Ipswich and Suffolk don't drink White Lightning and Tennent's Super but enjoy a dram or the odd bottle of Chablis instead?

We certainly need to do something about 'binge drinking' and maybe this is the way forward, as opposed to Minimum Pricing, which has the potential to be so manifestly unfair to those who do drink responsibly and those who are economically disadvantaged but still fancy a tipple. But be careful what you wish for, creeping regulatory control is no substitute for carefully crafted legislation born out of full political dialogue and engagement with the electorate.

Perhaps widening the 'national conversation' to ask consumers as well as retailers nd manufacturers what solution to the problem is required? But that would mean actually listening to voices with no 'vested interests', be it the drinks or the health industries … not going to hold my breath on that one.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Oi, nuMPties, we have spoken!

On February 15th 2012, Chris Schofield started e-petition 29664 ... it called on the Treasury to Scrap the Duty Escalator that is causing so much damage to the British pub trade and brewing industry. (thanks to Rob Willock from the PMA for correcting me ... doh!)

At 10.26 am today the petition received the necessary 100,000 signatures required to "force" Parliament to debate the topic. Thanks again to Rob (sic) for pointing out also that it is one of only 12 to get this far ...

This and previous administrations have done incalculable harm to our sector of the economy both by sin of inclusion and sin of omission.

I have no doubt that any Parliamentary debate will see honourable members wring their hands and decry the death of the British pub.

I have equal certainty of belief in the intransigence of the Treasury in this matter and that the Duty Escalator will remain in place.

That shouldn't stop us, however, from continuing to voice our dissatisfaction with the (in)actions of this, past and future government and highlighting the social and economic importance of our industries.

The next step is to challenge the preposterous notion that Minimum Pricing will be the silver bullet to cure all social ills, but especially the scourge of alcohol abuse that we as an industry do so much to combat, whilst still trying to earn a living.

It may have taken 218 days for 100,000 to sign epetition 29664 and it may take even longer to get the requisite 100,000 to sign epetition 31885, but I for one will continue to shout it from the digital rooftop ...


You can sign the epetition on Minimum Pricing by clicking the link on the right hand side of this page.

Monday, 17 September 2012

So the Parliamentary summer break is over, kids are back at school and students have returned to the hallowed groves of academe ... our 'once in a lifetime' summer is over so I thought it might be useful to recap on where we were before we left off in July ...

MP Aidan Burley called for an end to the “boozing, alcoholic culture” of the House of Commons on the 19th as the commons select committee on Health condemned the drinks industry for not doing enough to combat alcohol misuse ...

My website, How To Run A Pub, got hacked and has been undergoing a total re-build ...

Two of our brewers, Greene King and Adnams exhibited the schizophrenia endemic in our industry, the former supporting minimum pricing the latter condemning the relief from duty escalator for the smallest of brewers, whilst a major operator, Tim Martin of Spoons fame gainsays the minimum pricing argument ...

Marston's reported on the potential of Premium Bottled Ales (for the off-trade anyways) and Everards, the Leicestershire brewer decided to use some of its excess yeast to support a bake-house pub concept in Birmingham ...

The Joseph Roundtree Foundation made sense in telling government to stop cutting provision for young people ... you know those pesky things like youth clubs ... as an alternative to drinking alcohol and CAMRA's 40th Good Beer Guide celebrates a return to brewing numbers not seen in this country for over 70 years and we've got a new sobriquet for the residents of No 10 and No 11 ...

So not a lot changed really, which, means as the autumn politi-fest of party conferences is imminent and the pub trade's opportunity to hammer our message home is coming too with (at the time of writing) only 1,864 signatures needed on the Scrap the Duty Escalator e-petition ... so what can you do?

1) Sign the petition, if you haven't done so or get someone else who hasn't to do so
2) Write to your local MP and set out what you think is wrong with the pub trade and what government can do to help us or what they can do to stop screwing up our industry (your choice)
3) Remember that feeling of Super Saturday and Super Human Sunday when we all felt like lions and carry on showing the nay-sayers why pubs are the social lynch-pin of this country just as the purple clad volunteers were the social glue of the games ...

Thursday, 13 September 2012

1,062 and counting ...

Widely reported in the press today (and even featured on the Today program on Radio 4) we as a nation can proudly boast over a thousand brewers, the highest number for over seventy years.

This phenomenal growth (158 new breweries in the last year alone) despite all the health lobby and successive administrations have done to try and cripple the brewing industry and heritage of this country has to be celebrated ...

So to mark the occasion I have added a new "useful link" unsurprisingly on the useful links page to a nifty little site called aletalk

25 in the Nottingham areas alone

With lots of features including a calendar of beer festivals, blog, forum this really is a fantastic resource

My favourite feature on the site is the fully searchable database of UK breweries and beers ... as of today 1,062 of the former and a staggering 8,833 of the latter ... it the has additional functionality of putting breweries/beers on a map for you so you can find all those in your area ... with details of the location, contact details, beers brewed, brewery tours, shop ... all any beer lover needs.

Fantastic chap(pesse)s ... long may you continue.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Fiction, not stranger than fact ...

Laughing all the way to the bank ...
Being somewhat of a traditionalist it's not often that I am moved to put digit to keyboard on a Sunday, however, I thought I had to share a few thoughts on last night's 'fly on the wall' mockumentary, the BBC's most excellent, "The Thick of It".

What a delicious 30 minutes of satire that if it weren't so close to the reality that is British politics and so ball-achingly accurate a portrayal of the current (mis)administration would be truly hilarious.

I could rant on and on about the lack of joined-up thinking or morally bankrupt posturing that many nuMPties indulge in whilst racking up an eye-watering expense roll that totals nearly £90millions last year ... yes 650 of them costing a mean average of  £138,000 ... but unfortunately the kindly nurse who brings me my medication on such occasions does not work on the christian sabbath.

Suffice it to say, the sobriquet dropped into the fast-moving dialogue to describe the 'senior partners' in the coalition will now feature heavily in my lexicon ...

... so simply and utterly brilliant, this single phrase is an entire justification for the Licence Fee.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Just Kidding ... Not!

Apologies to those who may have read about the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) Report onLocal Variations In Youth Drinking Cultures elsewhere. Which is my way of saying "damn your eyes Pub Curmudgeon" for beating me to the draw.

Mudge quite rightly points out some of the obvious correlations and findings contained in the report and is 'bang on the money' about the more asinine suggestions such as devoting more space to dancing to combat problematic drinking habits in the young adult market (18-24s).

My take on the report (sic) is not on the planning implications and recommendations for youth oriented drinking clusters, it's on JRF's implied criticism of this (and one assumes) previous administrations general youth and alcohol policies.

Here are some of the conclusions to the report offer to which I offer up the following:

Removing drinking clusters from areas associated with other young people and children - cinemas, bowling alleys, transport hubs/bus stops - all well and good, but without wholesale re-zoning and changes to the transport infrastructure I am not sure how this would be achieved.

"Encouragement for variety within youth drinking clusters: specifically tax breaks (business rates or the proposed late night levy) might be offered for properties that have a substantial area for dancing, live music and/or alternative ‘fun’ entertainment activities." The solution may be innovative, but I fear has little chance of success, I should imagine cash-strapped local authorities would be loathe to forgo any part of their dwindling revenue streams. Notwithstanding Curmudgeon's observation that extending dance facilities would only "stoke the febrile atmosphere", what the report fails to acknowledge or mitigate is the attraction of alcohol, whether consumed as a primary social function or as ancillary to activities such as dancing. Young people like to drink, period. It's part of their perceived right of passage from child to adult, and in all too many cases, the cheapest anaesthetic they can find for their boredom.

The report goes on to urge more recognition for "designated drivers" and offering low/non-alcoholic drinks along with more tax breaks in lower duties for low-alcohol products.

All good so far, and all things the hospitality industry have been campaigning for, but the real slap in the face for any section of those concerned with the issue of alcohol (mis)use by the under-aged are the following observations:

"Providing more funding for, rather than cutting back on support to, youth services, voluntary groups, sports and other types of non-alcohol provision aimed particularly at 12- to 18-year-olds." - bit of a no brainer there, but if the current administration continues hell-bent on more cuts this isn't going to happen 'Olympic legacy' or not.

Ditto "Channelling more funding to local government to raise the quality of parks, green spaces and shopping centres as places for activities or simply to ‘hang out’ for young people."

I doubt if there will even be the monies available for "The continuation of funding for partnership working between local authorities, the police and the health service to combat underage drinking, through early intervention, directions to leave and ChildSafe schemes, ID schemes, and enforcement campaigns on underage and proxy purchasing." Given the parlous state of local authority finances, one senior Tory commentator, the head of the Local Government Association, has warned "Councils are working hard to shield frontline services from the 28% cut to the money they receive from government ... If councils plundered their reserves to cover the cuts, the cupboard would be bare within five years ..."

So what is needed? Certainly not more disjointed thinking, as the current administration is exhibiting with their alcohol strategy and economic policy. As an industry we need to capitalise on findings such as the JRF report, it's time to stop being perceived as the cause of all society's ills and speak up for the immense good we do... jobs, taxes/duties, responsible retailing, social cohesion... but unfortunately our industry seems just as incapable of joined-up thinking as the nuMPties as evinced by recent reports.