Friday 12 April 2013

Useful idiots

Just as the government is hoping that the discussion over minimum pricing will fade away, one special interest group has decided to get it rolling again...

SIR – We urge the Government to stick to its plans to introduce a minimum unit price (MUP) for alcohol, to address the costs to society of irresponsible alcohol sale and consumption, and to encourage drinkers back into pubs and clubs.

The important role of pubs in communities across the country is often under threat from the easy availability of excessively cheap packaged alcohol.

The Government has public support. In a recent YouGov survey the majority said the Government was right to try to reduce the amount of cheap alcohol sold in shops.

Yet at the same time, the Government’s plans are being undermined by some who seek to distort the public’s understanding of how MUP would work. For example, 46 per cent wrongly believe MUP would increase the price of alcohol in pubs.

MUP will not solve all alcohol-related ills, but it will encourage responsible drinking.

The recent move to scrap the beer duty escalator and cut duty by 1p per pint is also welcome, in discouraging consumption of higher-alcohol products – drunk mainly at home – such as spirits, wine and strong ciders and beers.

By introducing MUP, the Prime Minister has a great opportunity to save lives, to save money and to protect British pubs.

This letter, published in the Telegraph, is not from the usual suspects at the British Meddling Association and Alcohol Con, but from representatives of pub companies, cask beer manufacturers and the Campaign for Real Ale.

I despair of these people. What can you call it—Rent-seeking? Pork barrel politics? Crony capitalism? It is all of those, and yet what galls me is not the transparent attempt to use the law to gain a competitive advantage on the off-trade. It is not even the fact that their core assumption (that making people poorer will draw them into pubs) is nothing more than wishful thinking.

No, it is the sheer, staggering short-sightedness and gullibility that makes me despair. These are people who have been tricked and screwed over by one bunch of neo-prohibitionists in recent memory when they were conned into supporting a total smoking ban. Deborah Arnott of ASH has since gloated about how she "split the opposition":

It is crucial to exploit opportunities that come your way. Our campaign was often lucky, and our opponents often foolish... John Grogan MP, chair of the all-party beer group, aligned sulking pub trade leaders with the health lobby to demand comprehensive legislation without exemptions for clubs.

And now we see many of the same players—albeit with many honourable exceptions, such as the British Beer and Pub Association—lining up to support a law which will allow the government to set the price of alcohol. It is true that the 45p limit currently proposed will not affect alcohol sold in pubs and clubs, but you'd have to be living on another planet not to realise that this limit will only go up. Indeed, the Sheffield model includes estimates of what would happen if the minimum price was 70p.

You would also have to be extremely naive not to see that minimum pricing of the off-trade will lead to minimum pricing of the on-trade. It is, after all, the on-trade that turns tipsy 'pre-loaders' into proper 'binge-drinkers'. Again, the Sheffield model includes estimates of what would happen if there was a £1 minimum unit price for pubs. All this is written down in black and white. What is wrong with these people?

Memo to the pub trade (and I should not have to tell you this): the temperance lobby is not your friend. They are concentrating on supermarkets at the moment because, as Willie Sutton would say, that's where the booze is. When people drank mainly in pubs, they went after pubs, because that's where the booze was. Feeding the crocodile in the hope that it will eat you last is not a sustainable business model. The medical temperance/public health lobby has about as much interest in protecting the 'great British pub' as it does in protecting the great British lard industry or the great British tobacco industry. You are the quarry.

If you are a discerning drinker and would prefer not to support the Neville Chamberlains of the temperance movement, these are the signatories...

Rooney Anand
Chief Executive, Greene King Stephen Glancey
Group Chief Executive Officer, C&C

Mike Benner
Chief Executive, CAMRA

William Lees-Jones
Managing Director, JW Lees Brewery

Stuart Bateman
Managing Director, Bateman’s Brewery

Steve Richards
Chief Executive Officer, Novus Leisure

Peter Marks
Chief Executive, Luminar

Keith Bott
Managing Director, Titanic Brewery

Jonathan Barker
Managing Director, Mitchell’s of Lancaster

Tony Brookes
Managing Director, Head of Steam

Michael Kheng
Director, Kurnia Licensing Consultants

Previous posts about rent-seeking pub chains are here and here. See also the Pub Curmudgeon's recent article in Opening Times.


Ivan D said...

"Stick to its plans"

I believe that technically the government never progressed beyond consultation on minimum pricing

It seems that wishful thinking from certain people in the DH, a few press leaks and Cameron shooting his mouth off constitute a firm plan these days.

With the possible exception of CAMRA who provide us with even more cause to despise them, the other signatories represent opportunistic vested interests who would whine like crazy if an unreasonable anti-competitive levy was imposed on them.


Dr Evil said...

My friends and I ration our trips to the pub now since we noticed we are spending beteen £30-£50 per week each. Prices are ridiculous and since one third of this is tax the obvious way to get people back in the pubs is to reduce duty to 5p per pint and for the brewers to reduce their prices too. Otherwise the pub as an institution will effectively die.

Chris said...

I cancelled my CAMRA membership last year because of their support for minimum pricing. Sad to see that nothing has changed.

RobsBeerOdyssey said...

CAMRA openly supporting this, so soon after the beer duty escalator was abolished reeks of hidden political motives.

It seems to me that the only winners will be the people making and selling the alcohol, as well as the government from receiving higher duties from stronger beers.

Publican Sam said...

Cheers for that ... this is a clarion call for pubs ... nicely put ...

J Mark Dodds said...

Comprehensively; well said.

nisakiman said...

I left a comment on the 'Telegraph' article, which I'll copy and paste here:

Yes, it's notable that whenever the dire straits of the pub industry comes up, everybody studiously ignores the very large elephant in the room.

It's these same pubcos who demanded that there be no exemptions for small pubs and private clubs when the smoking ban was introduced. Having decimated the small pubs with the ban (the much vaunted hordes of non-smokers that were going to flock to the pubs post-ban quite spectacularly failing to materialise), they now want to make booze more expensive for all those smokers who no longer spend their money in the pubs, in the misplaced hope that if they once again 'level the playing field', those smokers will return to the pubs.

I have news for the pubcos. 60% plus of regular pub-goers pre-ban were smokers; you threw them out, and they are not coming back. They have made other arrangements now. Pubs are dead. And no amount of legislation or fiddling with prices is going to bring them back to life.

The smoking ban was the most destructive and socially divisive piece of legislation ever passed. More than 11,000 pubs have closed since the ban. More than 150,000 jobs were destroyed. (Still, no SHS problems on the dole, eh?). And despite all the torturing of the statistics and fudging the figures, still the epidemiological risk factor of SHS is classified as 'insignificant'.

But let's not let facts get in the way of ideology, shall we? Smokers are 'untermenschen', and must be exiled and reviled, and removing their places of social contact helps achieve those ends. Never mind the collateral damage, this is a war on smokers and smoking, and the end justifies the means.

Minimum pricing is a desperate attempt by the pubcos to reverse the damage done by the ban, but it won't work.

As I point out in my comment, what they are trying to do is undo the massive damage they did to the pub trade with the smoking ban by imposing yet more restrictions on people. When will they wake up to the fact that "'s the smoking ban, stupid!"

The only way they are going to improve their lot is to lobby hard for a relaxation of the ban to allow smoking bars, but they are scared of being crucified by the public health lobby, so they all pretend that it is cheap supermarket booze that is at the root of their problems. They seem to forget that before the smoking ban, booze was also much cheaper in supermarkets than drinks bought in the pub, but that didn't stop people going out for a drink.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Junican said...

Well put Nisak.
Do you remember when cancer was called "The Big C". Talking about cancer was verboten.
Now, the the smoking ban is "The Big SB" - not to be mentioned under any circumstances.

Fishter said...

@Rob Shaw
Unfortunately CAMRA's policy has been clear on minimum pricing since well before the duty reprieve for beer (less than 7.5% ABV).

In my opinion it's misguided and naive to assume that minimum pricing is going to be good for the pub industry in the long term.