One of their main points is that the duty reductions have not been passed on to pub customers. Fair enough, but given that most prices are now rounded to the nearest 10p, few pub operators are going the knock a penny off and, in an environment of generally rising costs, it simply gives pubs a bit more breathing space. Plenty of pubs have increased their prices over the last couple of years although, to their credit, Sam Smith’s have held the price of OBB firm at a very reasonable £1.80 a pint.
As I’ve said before, from a presentational point of view, it would have been better for Osborne to freeze beer duty rather than slightly cutting it, as he has done with fuel duty. That would have stopped all these complaints about “what’s the point of a penny off duty?” And, realistically, the current level of duty should be compared to what it would have been if the escalator had still been in force. Over three years, that would have led to the price of a pint in a pub being 20-30p higher, which would undoubtedly have harmed their business and led to more closures.
Given a clean sheet of paper, I would certainly set alcohol duties at a much lower level than we have at present. But, in the current situation, it may well not be the best use of the limited funds available to the Chancellor. For the time being, I would be quite happy for them to be frozen for the length of the current Parliament, and there is a risk that those supporting a reduction may be portrayed as irresponsible.
The complainers also seem to be a group of pub operators not noted for charging bargain basement prices, so you have to question exactly how bothered they are about lowering the cost to the drinker. They also come up with the usual self-serving guff about pubs being a “controlled drinking environment” and make the ludicrous claim that you can get a standard bottle of 11% ABV white wine for £3 in Tesco. Well, I’d love to see that in my local branch.
I would be happier if CAMRA and the BBPA were advocating a duty freeze, not a cut. Ending the duty escalator was perhaps CAMRA’s greatest ever success, but the momentum and goodwill are steadily diminishing. And the pub trade over the years has collectively shot itself in the foot by continually increasing prices above inflation.