Wednesday 19 December 2012

Then they came for the pub drinkers

It often seems to be assumed by people involved in the pub trade that either alcohol minimum pricing won’t affect them at all, or it may even help them by making cheap off-trade drinks less attractive.

However, it should be remembered that the University of Sheffield study which has been used as justification for the proposals actually said that the most beneficial results would come from setting differential minimum prices for the on- and off-trades, with the former more than twice as high.

And now it seems that Newcastle City Council are taking them at their word by imposing a minimum price of no less than 125p/unit as a licensing condition for two city-centre bars.

Decantus (30-32 Grey St) and the Grey St Café Bar and Grill (77 Grey St/21-27 Market St) have been awarded a premises licence subject to a condition that alcohol is sold at set prices which equate to minimum price of £1.25 per unit of alcohol.

This is nearly three times the 45p per unit price currently subject to government consultation.

These prices have been agreed as a condition in order to maintain standards and to keep the street as the city’s premier street.

The minimum prices will apply at all times during which alcohol may be supplied under the premises license and there will be no specific trading hours/evenings when alcohol is discounted below the minimum agreed price and used as a vehicle to attract customers.

This initiative by the city council, with the full cooperation of the applicants, is designed to maintain the quality of the city centre, control crime and disorder and improve health. It also seeks to end the availability of the most irresponsibly priced alcohol by controlling multi-buy promotions which lead to irresponsible drinking.

Bear in mind that this is well above the price of most draught beer sold in the North-West. It would make a pint of Robinson’s Unicorn three quid, and it’s over twice the unit price of some of the stronger guest ales sold in Spoons. It’s a fat lot of good campaigning for an end to the duty escalator if pubs are prevented from taking advantage of it anyway.

No doubt some will say that it’s only a couple of posers’ bars in the centre of Newcastle which is notorious for alcohol-fuelled disorder. But I’d like to bet there’s a Spoons within a few hundred yards that is now anxiously looking over its shoulder. And how many times have we been told that some principle will never be extended only to find ourselves rapidly sliding down a slippery slope?

This seems to be an example of a growing trend for councils to make up the law as they go along by imposing licensing conditions that go well beyond legal requirements. For example, we have just seen Perth and Kinross council prevent a new Sainsbury’s supermarket selling any beers or ciders above 5.5%, which excludes many craft favourites such as Duvel, Old Tom and even Punk IPA. Let us hope that in future the likes of Wetherspoon’s and Tesco manage to mount a robust legal challenge and leave the councils with egg on their faces.

Edit: and it seems as though the Newcastle plan may well be legally questionable.


  1. Oh I do hope these bars sell cask pong.

  2. If they do, given the names and the location, it's probably of the "HOW MUCH a pint?" variety.

    But there are five Spoons within half a mile.

  3. Surely the Belgian beer producers can stop Perth and Kinross Council doing that?

  4. Given that Sainsbury's don't have to sell strong beers (or indeed any beers at all) and this will be portrayed as a voluntary agreement, I doubt whether Belgian brewers would have much of a legal case.

    If, on the other hand, the council sought to prevent the sale of strong beers anywhere in their area then they would have a much better case for restraint of trade. In that case, I believe the council would be acting ultra vires. However, I feel that councils are seeking to extend their powers by small incremental steps.

  5. If they do, given the names and the location, it's probably of the "HOW MUCH a pint?" variety.<<

    Brewdog Newcastle is just down the hill... 'nuff said.

  6. It would still make a pint of Punk IPA four quid, and I suspect they're not much above that.

  7. Still I find it heartwarming that responsible drinking through price control affects not just the welfare poor, but those that supported it thinking it did not affect them.

  8. I see from DP’s site that CAMRA, perhaps predictably, are putting their goody-two-shoes hat on and supporting minimum pricing which, they say, will “help pubs.” Where have they been living for the last 20 years? Every CAMRA member should be sent a note saying in large letters: “45p MINIMUM PRICE – IT WON’T STOP THERE”, in case the Newcastle story hasn’t brought this stark realisation to their duped collective consciousness (which is likely, n’est pas?). One actually has to start to wonder if a few fifth-columnists haven’t been planted in their midst. No wonder you left, Mudge.

  9. FYI, a pint of Punk in a Brewdog bar was £3.80 last time I looked.

    I don't give credence to slippery slope arguments, simply debate the merits of each case on its own terms.

  10. "No wonder you left, Mudge."

    I stood down from any official position. I am still a Life Member and have been known to attend the occasional event, plus contributing a monthly column to the local rag.

  11. "I don't give credence to slippery slope arguments"

    Nothing is inevitable, but if you blinkeredly refuse to accept that A ever sets a precedent for B or can be used as a template for it then you deserve to fail.

  12. They make for a neat piece of rabble-rousing rhetoric, but as a logical means of constructing an argument they have zero validity. You can basically use them to argue any stance you wish.

    If we legalise cannabis today, tomorrow heroin will be legalised.

    If we give women votes today, tomorrow domesticated animals will be allowed to vote.

    If we stop smokers from blowing carcinogens into other people's faces, tomorrow all forms of fun will be banned.

    All the above arguments are equally stupid.

  13. * or indeed that favourite slippery slope argument of CAMRA, "if we acknowledge that any beer other than CAMRA defined and approved cask conditioned real ale is any good at all, we might as well cease to exist altogether".

  14. You might have a point about CAMRA, PYO, if your summary of the campaign's view of beer other than real ale were true. It isn't.

  15. Re the "slippery slope", see this comment.

    "the phrase is widely and more generally used to mean something that sets a precedent for a principle to be extended, or encourages people to do so."

    If someone who supports both A and B says that A sets an example for doing B, which is somewhat similar, or that A proves that B can be done, then you have a slippery slope.

    Equally, if some pro-keg person was saying that, if we can get CAMRA to adopt keykeg, then it's only a matter of time before they support JS Extra Smooth, that would be a slippery slope.

  16. How come, despite growing protests from both brewers and consumers, we still stubbornly won't allow any UK breweries to sell non cask conditioned ale at any of our festivals then Nev?

    Actions speak louder than words.

  17. Wot Cookie said @ 13:04. Glorious. :)

  18. Slippery slope arguments, as py0 notes should be given little credence and each case should be judged on its merits.

    It is far better to use the 'logical next step' argument as this avoids any of the issues associated with the 'slippery slope'.

    In the case of the two bars, if it is a success then the next logical step is to extend it, so the benefits can be had by all.

    All are had with the logical next step, no slippery slope, none at all.

  19. “All the above arguments are equally stupid.”

    Not really, they’re just inaccurate (I guess because the people saying them wanted to exaggerate their point). But replace the word “tomorrow” with the word “eventually” and – hey presto – you’ve got an uncannily accurate description of what the PTB, under pressure from influential single-issue lobby groups, are inexorably moving towards, whether intentionally or not. That’s why it’s called a Slippery Slope, rather than a Cliff Edge.

  20. I've just got back from Nottingham, where I had a pretty foul pint of flabby, metallic-tasting beer while reading the local CAMRA magazine - which featured a column applauding the decision to bar a local offie from selling anything over 6.5%. The enemy is already within the gates, I fear. (Other odd features of the mag included what appeared to be a regular column contributed by the local police. I was glad to get back to Opening Times-land.)

  21. I have vague memories of reading a piece in Nottingham Drinker criticising the off-trade that could have come straight from the more hysterical wing of the anti-drink lobby.

    As if nobody's ever been obnoxious when pissed up on real ale.

  22. In Ipswich, Suffolk, the local Council and Plod are already limiting the sale of any beer or cider over 6.5%

    The Co-op is removing all such products across Suffolk!
    Slippery slope anyone?

  23. "If we stop smokers from blowing carcinogens into other people's faces, tomorrow all forms of fun will be banned"

    pyO, that's actually what happened. Private clubs, staffed by volunteer members, where only consenting adults would have smoke blown into their faces were originally exempt from the Labour Party election manifesto proposals.

  24. Martin, Cambridge20 December 2012 at 23:05

    I was in Newcastle last Saturday and genuinely astonished at price of beer in their Beer Guide pubs (average £3.20-£3.60); beer was consistently good quality but pubs seemed to be very shiny and upmarket compared to Cambridge or the Norther Quarter. Very few drinkers pubs left in the centre.

    On the wider point, how would Council justify sale of any wine/spirits on that flaky basis ?

  25. Martin, I get the impression Newcastle is more like Edinburgh or Glasgow in its drinking culture than Leeds or Manchester. Let alone Stockport.


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