Friday, 27 July 2018

A taxing issue

The industry-funded group behind “There’s a Beer For That” has now transformed itself into Long Live The Local, which is campaigning for a cut in beer duty. This is being championed by, amongst others, supermodel turned pub landlady Jodie Kidd. Now, cutting beer duty, and indeed alcohol duties in general, is undoubtedly a worthy cause. The UK only accounts for 12% of the beer drunk in the EU*, but pays 40% of the duty. High duties distort the market, place a burden on less well-off consumers, and mean that quality is compromised as products are tailored to meet particular price points. They’re also highly regressive in their impact on the population.

But it’s questionable to what extent a beer duty cut would do very much to increase trade in pubs. As I’ve argued before, the decline of pubs vis-a-vis the off-trade has been driven by a list of factors, most of which have nothing to with price. In broad terms, changes in social attitudes have meant that the range of occasions when people will even contemplate a visit to a pub just for a drink has steadily diminished. Responsible people who aren’t on the breadline, which is most of us, don’t go to the pub because the opportunity doesn’t arise, not because they can’t afford it. Would you really go to the pub substantially more if beer was even 50p a pint cheaper?

Well-meaning people who say they’re pub-lovers decide, for valid enough reasons, that a pub visit isn’t on the agenda in a range of situations when their predecessors thirty or forty years ago might well have done. And it must be remembered that, in the past, pubs were sustained by a core of customers who, not to put too fine a point on it, were heavy drinkers – the blokes who were getting through numerous pints on most nights of the week. That’s much less common, and much more frowned upon, now, and the people who still do drink in that way are doing it more at home with a slab of Carling. Pubs aren’t going to thrive on customers who drink a couple of two-thirds of craft beer a week.

Yes, cutting duty would help pubs a bit, not least in putting them on a firmer financial footing, even if it didn’t result in lower prices over the bar. But it’s wrong to see it as any kind of magic bullet for the trade, and “beer tax is killing pubs” is at best a gross over-simplification. And it rings rather hollow when there can be such a wide variation in beer prices between different pubs. Within a mile of my house, I can pay £2.50 or £4.00 a pint for the same or very similar beers. If the pub trade as a whole really thought price was such a significant factor, then you might expect it to make more of an effort to be price-competitive.

There are things that government could do to help pubs, specifically to relax the smoking ban somewhat and to stop the demonisation of moderate drinking in public health messages. But, realistically, it’s highly unlikely to do either of those things. If the industry wanted to concentrate in a taxation campaign that really would make a difference to the viability of pubs, then it might be better to focus on reforming the system of business rates. But that isn’t something that resonates with the drinking public in the same way.

* Until 29 March next year, obviously

53 comments:

  1. There should be pubs for smokers.

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  2. I always said a well ventilated smoke room in a pub was the best solution. Anyway, I do meet a lot of landlords in my travels. One I know in Huntingdon said the new Wetherspoons had dented his trade and he was selling very affordable real ales and decent premium lagers too. So a significant price drop was hurting him a bit. The other pubs which were more expensive must be suffering except for their regulars. The same picture in St Ives too (Cambs of course) with the new Wetherspoons packed out on Saturday afternoons. The publicans of this market town campaigned bitterly against the decision to allow a Wetherspoons to open. None of them are going bust so I expect they are responding in a way that suits everyone. Wetherspoons also has real ales and lots of variety too.

    If I find a pub selling San Miguel or Staroprammen at over £4 a pint I certainly steer clear of it as my local only charges £3.50. But during happy hour the premium prices remain, unlike at the Bell at the other end of the village which discounts all drinks. Although I make lots of real ale and a fine craft lager (which I rarely get to drink) I do love a nice strong (ish) lager. Sadly they are 4.8% or 5% these days. The one I make is 6%. If beer duty was cut it would be a boon for my business. Hoever to make a pint more affordable would be a good move by government. I still wonder how Sam Smiths can get away with such ridiculously low prices in their own pubs. there is an excellent example in Stamford, St Mary's Vaults, small but very nice and very good prices!

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    1. Actually, with modern extraction and filter technology, such a room as you describe would probably be more pleasant even for non-smokers than sitting in the garden, where smoke drifts horizontally directly into their faces on the breeze. Let's assume that we're not talking about the unusual conditions brought on by the weather of late though.

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  3. You already do get £1,000 off your BR, if you're a pub with a rateable value of less than £100,000.

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  4. The Spoons effect isn't always universal. A small bar opened 20 feet across the road from the local Wetherspoons which sounds like commercial madness. They do 4 rotating, interesting real ales, slightly dearer than Wetherspoons but reasonably priced and with a CAMRA discount but they also have music. People move from one to the other. They seem to co-exist quite nicely.

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    1. If more pubs followed the Spoons' policy re dogs then it could only help them. Although dog ownership hasn't increased markedly over the years, the degree of control exercised over them in pubs (as over children) has plummeted. Once upon a time you didn't know that they were there until they came out from under the tables at closing time. Now, you quite often have to protect every recess on your person from having an assortment of snouts shoved into it. Relaxin' it ain't.

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    2. I'm not sure there are *that* many people who dislike dogs to the extent that they would actively seek out pubs that don't admit them. And, for those that do, there are plenty of pubs that meet their requirements, including all Spoons. Just like, prior to 01/07/07, every Spoons had a non-smoking section.

      Did you see the recent episode of "The Hotel Inspector" where Alex Polizzi advised a Wiltshire village pub to make a point of promoting itself as being dog-friendly? In rural areas, barring dogs is likely to be very bad for business.

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    3. My point was about unruly kids too. There seems to be a reticence among managements of all sorts of places open to the public, not just pubs, to dare to require any standards of behaviour by anyone at all (I partly blame these hands-on educational establishments). Taken together, during the school hols, these mixed downsides mean that quite a few people do avoid certain pubs. We do anyway.

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    4. Well, any criticism of the behaviour of children in pubs will bring the full wrath of Mumsnet down on your head.

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    5. Aye, it might well that and all. We've brought up four of our own, but before the days of Prosecco, and all that sometimes goes with that, so I'm not that bothered.

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    6. Syd Diiferential28 July 2018 at 16:49

      Rather like a wino keeping his descent into meths drinking as the very last resort I am reserving Mumsnet for that time when I'm really bored with every forum I go on.
      I'm told,because I've never been on it,that there are rich pickings to be had from winding up women with tales of sexual deviance and outrageous male behaviour.
      I'm slowly building up the character I'm going to appear as on their forums and frankly even I am shocked at some of the things he's been getting up to.
      Currently working a story about a wart on the end of my todger that mysteriously disappeared during an orgy.
      I feel almost like a feller looking forward to becoming a dirty old man.

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    7. It's perhaps a bit beyond the intended compass of this blog (or maybe not), but when people are legally empowered beyond their innate morality or good nature, then it don't really lend itself towards civility, I've found. I'm writing about family law in this fair land, and what the act of sprogging confers upon the sprogger in that respect. It ain't that party political. They've all grovelled for the same votes to some degree.

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    8. I used to have a dog who would lie at my feet in a pub and not disturb anybody. Occasionally I would have the misfortune to encounter a twild (H/T BRAPA) who would insist on pulling his ears and tail, much to his annoyance. When I remonstrated with the twother (H/T etc) I would be told "He's only expressing himself", to which my answer would be "How would you like it if my dog expressed himself by biting your child's fingers off?" It didn't go down well. Hi de ho.

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    9. The Stafford Mudgie29 July 2018 at 15:37

      I did nine pubs in Hebden Bridge yesterday and felt out of place with NOT having a dog.
      And not just whippets there, all sorts.

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    10. I'm sure, Staffs. I suppose that parents think "why should we be more strict with our brood of little humans, than dog owners are asked to be with their animals?" too. Reckon they might have a point and all.

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    11. One local pub in stockport on the A6 has a prominent sign outside boasting about how dog friendly it is. We called in and whilst having a drink , considered having one of their pizzas sometime. This thought was rapidly negated by the sight of two uncontrolled dogs running amok in the lounge/eating area, climbing all over the banquette seats, flecking and eating leftover pizza off plates on vacated tables. No one seemed to bat an eyelid, we wont again be Flying in the Coach anytime soon. The problem, as with children, is that their owners/wranglers are incapable of recognising that not everyone loves their little bundles of fur/joy.

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    12. The Stafford Mudgie3 August 2018 at 03:05

      JC,
      Yes, SOME dog owners and parents are incapable of recognising that not everyone loves their little bundles of fur/joy but my experience is that most dogs in pubs aren't a problem and the only children running riot are those of parents who don't realise that every pub isn't a Wacky Warehouse.
      The Saracens Head at Weston three miles from me profits from dog owners with their 'Yappy Meals' at £9.95. That's more my wife and I pay for ourselves to eat at the nearby Woolpack.

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  5. If any other tax was reduced and beer tax increased, pretty much everyone would be better off.

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  6. Guess there are those that think pubs ought to be a cosy cartel of high prices and those that think a bit of competition, price or otherwise offers us punters more. Guess it depends whether you think disruption is a good thing. I like it.

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  7. Good point raised Mudgie ....cheaper beer over a prolonged period would help I think but business rates and smoking rooms would arguably help more. As would more prominemt figures promoting drink

    Life after football

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  8. I'm keeping well away from the dogs issue, so I'll just say Timbo is spot-on in identifying Prosecco as the evil amongst us.


    I spent half an hour reading responses to a man asking a question in MumsNet recently, the most terrifying half an hour of my life.Worse than Discourse.

    Martin

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    1. I wouldn't trust myself to go there Martin. I witnessed the dismal spectacle in a local, of watching a poor Mother's Assistant (formerly called a "father") seeking maternal consent to restrain their feral child in the pub, and having that request waspily dismissed. There's no point in trying to explain. All is lost on them.

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie31 July 2018 at 10:17

      I would normally keep well away from the dogs issue but as this is about tax maybe beer duty could be pegged if the Dog License was reintroduced. At 37½p a year it brought quite a few quid into the government's ccffers. And how about a cat license ?
      "Worse than Discourse" - never ?

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    3. I'm more of a pub man than an internet type. I've heard of Discourse, but I thought it was just a platform for whatever discussion. I've never knowingly joined it. For what's it renowned then Staffs?

      Oh, just think of all the different licences we could have? Barbecues, car-washing in the street, budgies, morris dancing...are you listening, Chancellor?

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    4. A cat licence? You know, you can go off someone very quickly 😾
      "Oh, he's not ours, he's just a stray we feed from time to time..."

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    5. The Stafford Mudgie31 July 2018 at 18:46

      But it is claimed that the reintroduction of Dog Licenses would help to reduce the number of homeless and uncared for dogs in the country and generally improve welfare standards and likewise the introduction of Cat Licenses would help to reduce the number of homeless and uncared for cats in the country and generally improve welfare standards.

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    6. I would suggest that £1000 per annum would be just about enough to compensate for the harm and distress dogs cause to non dog owners. And, in introducing dog licences, I would allow unlicensed dogs to be shot on sight.

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    7. The Stafford Mudgie2 August 2018 at 13:49

      David,
      But it is well known that a dog, or indeed a cat, as a companion can greatly improve someone's mental health, reduce their reliance on the NHS and save the government shedloads of money.
      It has been suggested by 'the Health Lobby', in a rare outburst of common sense, that dogs and cats should be available on the NHS.

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    8. The trouble with the dog licence was, that it was often justified on the grounds of covering the cost of clearing up dog muck (it went nowhere near it in truth). The effect of that was, that owners said "I've paid my 7/6d, so now I'll let it crap wherever it wants". The streets are much better since it was abolished, though not just thanks to that perhaps. Since TTers apparently suffer more dementia than topers (yep, it's even on today's Guardian website and all), beer on the NHS might be better.

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    9. Oh dear, David, you're a bit of a cynophobe, aren't you? Maybe they could also introduce licences allowing people to breed, and allow unlicensed children to be shot on sight too!

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    10. Ey up. Let's show some understanding to poor old David. My Mrs. probably loved her manic Springer Spaniel more than she does me, but that does not mean that she wants other people's animals all over her when we go to the pub, and *absolutely not* when we are eating (as Jabez described). It would also be nice to be able to get to the bar without stepping over them. As I say, why should parents of small humans restrict their freedom to less than managements allow to dogs too? If you want well-behaved kids in pubs, then you have to fix dogs, or rather, their owners, first.

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    11. Staffie: I don't doubt that owning a dog can reduce the owners stress level somewhat but it vastly increases the mental strain for the people it attacks. So I doubt if there is any overall saving to the NHS.

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    12. Tombo: It was on the Today Program that moderate drinkers had reduced risk of dementia compared to teetotallers. But the spokes-women for health-busy-bodies-are-us stressed that if you were TT you shouldn't start drinking in order to reduce your risk of dementia.

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    13. Peter: I am not a cynophobe. Cynophobia is the irrational fear or hatred of dogs. Having being bitten several times by digs, my wife being hospitalised by a dog bite, and mt#y daughter having had her pet guinea pigs killed by a passing dog I think thaqt my hatred of dogs is perfectly rational. Though, on consideration, it might be more effective to shoot the owners of unlicensed dogs rather than the dogs.

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    14. The Stafford Mudgie3 August 2018 at 19:26

      Timbo,
      I never heard a dog owner say "I've paid my 7/6d, so now I'll let it crap wherever it wants" and very rarely now, even without dog licenses, do I see dog crap on pavements. Much worse is when we’ve done some gardening and the neighbour’s cats see the weeded flowerbed and think “ooh, what a lovely new litter tray” but I blame owners Clive and Diana not their cats.
      Yes, Springer Spaniels are manic.
      Very rarely have I had to step over a dog to get to the bar. Much worse are those selfish drinkers sat on posing stools at the bar as if they own the pub and all but denying anyone even sight of the handpumps.

      David,
      You must have been very unlucky.
      I was a rural postman for ten years and never had any trouble with the many dogs.

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    15. Yes I must be very unlucky. None of the dogs that bit me had ever bitten anyone, or shown the slightest hint of aggression, in the previous decade

      The thing I hate most in pubs is people sitting at the bar on posing stools eating food. It is quite nauseating to have to look at, an small, a plateful of abandoned chips and ketchup, while choosing your drink.

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    16. OK, maybe we've done dogs and kids. Now what about music? I've just been subjected to a load of millennial, dreary, mawkish wailing, at the behest of the young bar staff, in a pub where the customer, as well as the locality's demographic and culture would have been far, far more attuned to Oscar Peterson or to Stan Getz, say. It really did get under my skin, and to the point where I said to the solemn young lady serving, that unless it changed, then I'd have to make this pint my last, so as to hurry home to slash my wrists. To her credit she changed it, albeit to jolly millennial chirping.

      Yes, we sadly live in an age where one class of person finds empathising with any other near impossible it seems, but we're talking about money and business success here. So maybe some people should try harder?

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    17. The Stafford Mudgie4 August 2018 at 14:01

      Maybe we need to put things in perspective.
      I don't know anyone who has suffered ill health from eating in a room where there's a dog and I don't know anyone who has suffered ill health from 'passive smoking' in a pub before the smoking ban.
      I do know that pedestrians have been killed by motorists but that doesn't stop me crossing the road to get to a pub.
      As for 'music' I drape my coat over the speaker if it's winter and take ear plugs in the summer.

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    18. What a load of Staw Men, Staffs. It's not usually about suffering ill health. It's about positively enjoying a meal (or a pint), without the reek of a damp, old, long-haired, mucky animal making you want to bring up your last one, and having your glad rags besmeared with canine mucus, among the other things in the list. And what's wrong with music enjoyed by a majority of the customers rather than just about tolerated? We are talking about making pub experiences actually pleasant here. Mere survivability isn't really a pull for normal yoomans, unless your house falls a very long way short on building regs.

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    19. The best thing we could do about pets in this country would be to remove our irrational view of them. Treat pets as you would livestock. With care, appreciate they are living creatures and ought not suffer at our hands, but ultimately be happy to eat them.

      The same people that treat cats like they are humans are happy to eat industrial farmed animals that have lived and died in suffering. In would be more humane for people and pubs to keep cats, treat them well and also put them on the menu as an ethically raised and slaughtered meat.

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    20. I've seen you cross the road to get to a pub , you lead a charmed life.

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    21. The Stafford Mudgie6 August 2018 at 17:11

      Timbo,
      Most of the reeking, damp, old, long-haired, mucky creatures in the pubs that I use are two legged.
      "Music enjoyed by a majority of the customers" is what we had with juke boxes but they've all but disappeared. Customers, not licensees, know what customers want to hear or know if customers want a bit of peace and quiet.

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    22. Sounds like you might try better pubs, Staffs me ol' mukka.

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    23. The Stafford Mudgie9 August 2018 at 14:30

      Timbo,
      But I’m not sure how you would define “better pubs” – maybe like one I’ve just read about with “Hay Baked Carrot” and “Sous Vide Cod“ on the menu and Trip Advisor reviews including phrases like “to die for“ and “divine”. No thanks.

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    24. I don't know what hay baking would add to a carrot and "sous vide" basically means posh boil in the bag so yes I'm with you here.

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    25. The Stafford Mudgie10 August 2018 at 09:44

      Bill,
      Yes, boil in the bag won't be much better than microwaved.
      I bake my cod in the oven or get it battered and deep fried from a proper chip shop.

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    26. Arsenal Fan 36s Greatest Tribute Act23 August 2018 at 14:48

      Spoons for you from now on then David, yes?

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  9. So that's who did that YouTube advert.. .

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  10. Nay lad. I just mean one where the customers don't stink, as you said they often do where you go Staffs. I'm with you on the juke boxes tho. Handy things.

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie10 August 2018 at 09:53

      Timbo,
      "don't stink" - but what about sweaty building workers quenching their thirst during this hot summer with a couple of lunchtime pints in the Public Bar ?
      And it's recently been in the news that Jenny Rimmer, a compassionate 45-year-old in Cornwall, spotted two men in their early 20s sleeping rough and offered them a hot meal. When they walked into the Truro Wetherspoons staff told them there was a ban on homeless people and anyone “who is smelly".

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    2. Aye, but there are plenty of pubs as you describe. Chuck in the other bits we've discussed, and some people ask why others would rather stay at home and have their mates round with a few carry-oots?

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    3. The Stafford Mudgie11 August 2018 at 09:20

      Timbo,
      But some of us might live in houses as shabby as a Wetherspoons venue.

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    4. Spoons venues are generally fairly well-appointed, whatever the tooth-count among its trade. Innit?

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