Caroline Nodder: Pubs ARE the Big Society

By Caroline Nodder

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Cheap supermarket deals Alcoholic beverage Big society

There's a four-pack of own-brand Morrison's lager - 2 per cent ABV - sitting forlornly on the news desk at Publican Towers this week. Having had it...

There's a four-pack of own-brand Morrison's lager - 2 per cent ABV - sitting forlornly on the news desk at Publican Towers this week. Having had it confirmed that the government's plan to curb cheap supermarket deals centred on a ban on them selling any alcohol below the sum cost of duty plus VAT, our news team took to the streets to try to locate a supermarket deal that would be affected by the new legislation.

And came back with only the own-brand lager - on sale for 99p for four cans - as a possible suspect.

But no.

On closer examination even this deal lies well within the parameters of the new law - it would have to be sold below 72p for four cans to face the wrath of the government, so supermarkets might even consider cutting the price further if they feel like it.

Which makes a total mockery of the whole idea.

What a waste of time. And how disappointing from a new government that promised so much!

The whole exercise underlines the key issue we have with government, which is ignorance. Ministers don't understand our industry, its structure, its cost pressures, its purchasing methods, pricing policies or the difference between us and the off-trade. And this pointless "minimum pricing" law just proves it.

My hope is that the new minister for pubs, Bob Neill, now has the opportunity to educate himself and indeed the rest of Westminster, in order to stop penalising the good guys with legislation that allows the big bad off-trade to continue flooding the UK with cheap booze.

Their laws have encouraged the supermarkets to discount, and that means more people are drinking more alcohol than ever before in an unregulated environment. Kids drink cheap off-trade booze in parks, or even at home, adults load up on bottles of cheap supermarket wine before they go out to the pub. The culture of parents gradually introducing their offspring to relaxed social drinking in their local pub is dying out. In its place the culture of fast-paced, high-strength drinking at home or in the streets is being actively encouraged by the off-trade, which is a volume business.

Ministers need to understand that they themselves are causing this social breakdown. They are pushing people towards off-trade consumption when they should be encouraging pubs, not just for their social responsibility aspects, but as key employers in this country, as community hubs, and as the single thread that binds together the disintegrating social fabric in many parts of the UK.

Pubs ARE the Big Society. They deserve respect and support, and most of all they deserve to be listened to and understood, so that at least any new laws that are brought in actually do what they are intended to do.

Bob Neill will be speaking at the Publican Directors Club meeting at the end of this month and, hopefully, listening too… watch this space.

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