Opinion > Pete Brown

The beer-duty escalator: my final thoughts

By Pete Brown , 09-May-2012
Last updated on 09-May-2012 at 18:20 GMT

Related topics: Pete Brown, Business Support

This is going to be my last column on the duty escalator for a little while. It’s not that the issue is going away — far from it. I just don’t want to turn into one of those zealots you start trying to avoid.

Pete Brown:

Pete Brown: "People have started assuming that, when I say hello to them, I want to talk about the duty escalator. But sometimes I don’t — honest"

You know them — the types that carry clipboards or pamphlets, and when they walk into a place and they’re looking round to see if they can spot anyone they know, you hide or pretend you’re on the phone, and they see you anyway and come over and start haranguing you for the hundredth time. Often they have wild hair and smell of soup.

I’m worried I’m turning into that person.

I’ve started to get those nervous looks thrown in my direction at beer events. People have started assuming that when I say hello to them, I want to talk about the duty escalator.  But sometimes I don’t — honest.

So why am I writing about it yet again, if I’m already worried that I’m getting boring about the subject, and when it was the subject of the PMA lead editorial only last week?  

Because as editor Rob Willock pointed out , at the end of April, hundreds of bakers delivered a petition to Downing Street against the ‘pasty tax’.  When George Osborne cut taxes for the super rich and hammered grannies and Greggs, the humble pasty became a cause célèbre, proof of how out touch this government is with ordinary people.  

The fact that so many bakers braved awful weather to deliver the petition is impressive enough.  What’s even more impressive is that their petition had 500,000 signatures on it.

At the time of writing, the duty escalator petition has 36,000.

As I write, the beer duty escalator petition has been running for 11 weeks, the pasty tax petition for five.  That means their petition gained 100,000 signatures a week, while ours has managed just over 3,200.  Mathematically, the nation cares 31.3 times more about its pasties than it does pubs and beer.

Of course, it’s not as simple as that.  As Rob pointed out, the pasty tax was seized upon by The Sun as a populist stick with which to beat an out-of-touch government. The British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) is trying to persuade certain news-papers to take up the beer cause in a similar fashion. Discussions are ongoing, and if they succeed, we’ll obviously see a huge surge in interest over the issue.

But my quibble is not with the public or national press, who see tax on beer and fags as ‘sin tax’ — fair enough — whereas they see taxes on fuel, pies and old ladies’ heating bills as deeply unfair.
My quibble is with you.  Last week the PMA made it even easier to get people to sign the petition, and because the editor is a nice guy
(and because he’s the editor and has to be responsible) he played good cop, gamely encouraging publicans to do their bit.

I’m here to be bad cop. Because on 20 April, the PMA announced that on-trade beer sales were down 6% in the first quarter of 2012, while off-trade sales were up nearly 5%. The BBPA places the blame for this squarely with the duty escalator.

There are still more than 50,000 pubs in this country. Even if we made the erroneous assumption that everyone who has signed the petition works in a pub, that’s fewer than one member of staff per pub.  

The rest of you — the vast majority of the million or so people whose jobs depend on pubs — are giving the public and the government the strong impression that you bloody love the duty escalator, that you have no problem with it at all.

I know many publicans think that the pubco tie is the biggest issue hitting pubs. I know some are still even complaining about the smoking ban. But you don’t have to choose just one issue, you know. You can oppose beer duty (by taking no more than two minutes to sign the petition) and still keep up your campaign against pubcos.  

And I’m afraid the argument about ‘petitions never change anything’ is self-defeating rot. At the very least, they highlight the issue.
If you are happy about the duty escalator, I’d love to know why. If you aren’t, you really need to start making that a little bit clearer.

Sign the petition at camra.org.uk/saveyourpint

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