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10-09-2011, 14:52
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In the 2012 Good Beer Guide, editor Roger Protz offers the following five-point plan to “Save the British Pub”. But, sadly, on most of them he is very much barking up the wrong tree. My comments are shown in italics.

1. Reduce beer taxes

Yes, completely agreed (and all other alcohol duties at the same time). Even though high duties proportionately affect off-trade sales more than those in pubs, a regime in which alcoholic drinks as a whole are expensive encourages people to be more price-conscious and seek out the cheapest options.

2. Reduce VAT on the hospitality industry

Highly unlikely in the current economic climate, and wrong in principle. Government shouldn’t be in the business of giving tax concessions to lame-duck industries anyway, and much of the hospitality trade is actually in rude health. It would have the effect of subsidising McDonalds and Stella much more than real ale. It would be richly ironic if the government ended up doing it, but for “health” reasons excluded alcoholic drinks.

3. Tackle the power of the supermarkets

A complete canard that is pandering to the divide and rule tactics of the anti-drink lobby. There has been a long-term shift from on- to off-trade consumption for a variety of reasons (http://pubcurmudgeon.blogspot.com/2009/02/winds-of-change.html), most of which have nothing to do with price. Supermarkets follow consumer demand; they cannot create it out of thin air. And making off-trade alcohol more expensive does not give people a single extra penny to spend in pubs, not to mention the encouragement it gives to the black market.

4. Tighten planning laws to stop the closure of viable pubs

While I’m sure it is true that a few profitable pubs have been closed by unscrupulous developers, I don’t see that has made any difference to the overall demand for pubs. If you want to open a new pub, it’s not exactly impossible to get planning permission to do so, and in most areas there’s no shortage of boarded-up pubs available at knock-down prices.

5. Give those who run pubs more freedom to buy beer ‘free of tie’

Given that half the pubs in the UK do not sell real ale, and it accounts for only 15% of on-trade beer sales, even if successful that’s only going to scratch the surface. Most pub company licensees already have access to a fairly wide range of beers, and the fact that they can’t get hold of a few more can’t have more than a negligible impact on total trade. In any case, the giant pub companies such as Punch and Enterprise are following a discredited business model and are visibly disintegrating before our eyes. And why should brewers such as Greene King and Marston’s be forced to offer a free-of-tie option to their own tenants?

So one out of five isn’t a very impressive score, really. And the elephant in the room that really needs to be at the top of the list isn’t even mentioned. To paraphrase Chris Snowdon’s comment currently quoted in the blog header, “If I see one more self-proclaimed beer lover who supported the smoking ban crying crocodile tears about the state of the pub industry, I may throw up.”

As well as this, surely stopping government funding for anti-drink organisations masquerading as charities such as Alcohol Concern, and reining back the incessant tide of hysterical official anti-drink propaganda in favour of a concentration on genuine problem drinkers, also need to be given a high priority.

So my five-point plan would be:

Amend or scrap the smoking ban
Reduce alcohol duties
Stop government funding of anti-drink fakecharities
Turn down the wick on alcohol-related public health advice, and concentrate on problem drinkersReturn the emphasis in drink-drive safety messages to “Stay Low” rather than “Have None for the Road”
It’s not going to “save” pubs, but it might well slow their long-term decline.
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