“Another Pint,Please”: The Battle To Save Britain’s Pubs:

The latest ‘Quarterly Beer Barometer’ issued by the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) indicates that beer drinking in the UK is in decline. Last year 10 billion pints (32 million barrels) were  consumed across the country – 2.2 million fewer pints per day than in 2007 and 4.4 million less per day compared to 1998. The market has fallen by 23% since 1979 and beer sales in pubs are now ” At their lowest since the Great Depression of the 1930’s”. These statistics appear to contradict Britain’s world-wide reputation for ‘binge drinking’ – exceeding in one session or night out the recommended weekly maximum of 21 units of alcohol, with the deliberate intention of becoming totally intoxicated.  In fact, the Danish are top of this particular European league table at 60% over the advocated limit and the British down in fourth place at 54%.

Benjamin Franklin (one of the USA’s ‘Founding Fathers) once declared  that “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy”. According to the BBPA’s ‘A Wake Up For Westminster’ report on economic trends in the sector,  the UK Government does not share this somewhat benign view. Instead, successive health & safety legislation ( such as the ban on smoking in public places) and ‘discriminatory tax policies’ are “gradually destroying the industry”. Thirty-seven major British breweries have closed down in just twelve years, resulting 5,000 job losses. Examples in London are Youngs (Wandsworth:: 2006) and the 600-year-old Stag Brewery (Mortlake) where 200 workers will be made redundant in 2010 – a decision described by The Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) as a ” sad consequence of globalization”. Since 2007, 3,382 pubs have gone out of business and this total is now increasing by 36 every week (5 per day). The controversial ‘Sunday Times’ columnist, Jeremy Clarkson, attributes this partly to the Government’s attempts to persuade everyone to ‘drink responsibly’ and so reduce alcohol misuse. How , he asks, can pubs possibly expect to make a profit if they are required ” to display a sign asking customers to buy less? It’s madness”. 

Proposed legislation could soon make it compulsory to specify the alcohol units on drinks menus and also provide a wider variation of glass sizes.  The BBPA is also fiercely critical of the 9% beer duty increase in the 2008 Budget and the ‘escalator ‘ system whereby an extra 40% tax will be added to beer prices by 2012. The Licensing Act  2003 (allowing bars to stay open 24 hours) has cost the industry £95 million in ‘transition expenditure’ and new laws on gambling, food hygiene and employment an additional £40 million. A new Police & Crime Bill currently being debated in Parliament will make the pubs accountable for antisocial behaviour arising from excessive drinking – and burden them with yet another bill of £300 million p.a. for red tape. An incensed BBPA believes that all these measures are undermining the many benefits their industry brings to the UK economy: More than 2 million pints of beer are exported each day to over 120 countries, generating £400 million in export revenues.  UK brewers support British farming by buying 40% of the malting barley crop and sustaining hop cultivation. Especially significant in the recession: 600,000 people are employed in brewing, distribution, pubs and bars.

Meanwhile, across the UK, enterprising  publicans have come up with their own  solutions to the ‘credit crunch’ and alternatives to looming bankruptcy. Since January, The Four Crosses Inn (at Cannock, Northern England) has been offering a £1 food menu. They are now serving 300 lunches a day instead of 30 and attracting mini-buses full of pensioners from nearby Wolverhampton. In parts of London, some pubs are  advertising a two-course meal (Mondays to Fridays only) for two people for a combined total of £6.99p. The licencee of the Windmill Pub in Derbyshire has tried running a chip shop, then a Post Office (which had to shut in November due to Government cutbacks) and now a hairdressing salon from her pub. The reward for her initiative has been an extra business rate demand from her local borough’s Valuation Office Agency. Diversification is taxable and thus provides no guarantee of survival.

 

 

 

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Filed under: Society | Posted on February 10th, 2009 by Colin D Gordon

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