Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Seeing the light

I wrote recently about how Tim Martin of Wetherspoon’s seems to alternate in a schizophrenic manner between talking sense and nonsense. But his latest musings are definitely in the “sense” camp:

Two of the pub industry’s most influential figures, JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin and Stonegate chair Ian Payne, have spoken out against the merits of introducing a minimum unit price of alcohol.

Speaking at the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) conference in London, Payne said it’s “the worst thing that could happen to the industry”, and giving the Government control of prices is “asking for trouble”.

He compared it to the situation with university tuition fees, that were initially set at £2,000 by the previous Government and have now reached as much as £9,000.

The Government has proposed a 40p minimum unit price and Payne said: “All of a sudden 40p is £4.

“To set something at 40/50p that at the moment seems very good for the industry at some stage down the line if we give the Government control of retail prices it will hurt you.”

As I’ve argued before, minimum pricing will not give people a single extra penny to spend in pubs, and it is deluded and short-sighted to imagine that it will be in any way beneficial to the on-trade. Indeed, as Tim and Ian rightly recognise, it opens up the door to government control of pricing across the whole of the drinks trade, and who knows where that might end up?

It’s also worth reiterating the point that the academic study on which the minimum pricing proposals are based recommends that there should be a differential – and much higher – minimum price for the on-trade compared with the off-trade.


  1. If you wish to use price as the tool to stop students vomiting and pissing up the war memorial then Scandinavian price levels are about the point a skin full is out of reach.

    So once 40p a unit is in place the argument not to increase it has already been conceded. If 40p a unit is beneficial, 400p has to be more beneficial.

    The thing is, those pissed up kids may not be rich and saddled with student loans but they have more disposable income to piss away than most, what with not having mortgages, kids etc.

    Pricing alcohol out of their rich involves pricing it out of most peoples reach.

    I can understand Alcohol Concern supporting the first step. It is quite sad how CAMRA in attempting to help pubs is supporting the measure that will kill them off in droves, more so than any fag ban.

  2. CL is right on the money again. Minimum pricing will be used as a ratchet for tomorrow like duty is today - and just look at the extremes that can lead to.

    Good to see that some in the trade recognise the threat, though it's a shame they ruined it at the end by advocating advertising bans. That's a very dangerous door to open for the prohibitionists.

  3. I agree with CL: once you've conceded the principle, as CAMRA has, all that is left is to haggle over the detail, like we do with the beer tax escalator. We can all see how successfully CAMRA has campaigned against that.

    Roll on the minimum price escalator, a point I've made before.

  4. And, contrary to the view in some CAMRA circles, restrictions on advertising and promotion would hurt small start-up breweries a lot more than they would Carling and John Smith's.

    If I wanted to buy some fags, I'd ask for some I'd actually heard of.

  5. I rather suspect that minimum pricing would hit the on-trade even if on-trade prices remained constant. Suppose someone was in the habit of drinking e.g. 6 pints on a Saturday night. With current pricing they might 'pre-load' with 4 pints at home and then drink pints more slowly at a pub/club. The total cost would be say £1 times 4 plus £3.50 times 2 = £11.50. If the off-sales price went from £1 to £1.50 what would they do? I suspect they would keep costs down and pre-load all the more. Say £1.50 times 5 plus £3.50 times 1 = £11.00.


  6. Correct me if I'm wrong but doesn't the beard club have an utterly bizarre policy of wanting restrictions on big brand advertising but not smaller producers? Stunning in its naivety.

  7. Indeed it does, Cookie, and I criticised them for it nearly 15 years ago.

  8. You lot can argue all you like. Minimum pricing is coming, it’ll go up year on year, and it’ll have the wholehearted support of the public, who will be regaled with nightly images of drunken street hooligans, drink-driving road death statistics, alcohol-fuelled domestic violence stories, and alcohol-associated sex crimes.

    Anybody on here notice how “alcohol” was slipped in as one of the “grooming” tools in the recent child sex-ring scandal? No? Thought not.

    Drip, drip, drip ...


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