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By Pete Brown

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Duty escalator, Cask ale, Beer, Public house

Get involved: it's time to take action against the beer-duty escalator, says Pete Brown
Get involved: it's time to take action against the beer-duty escalator, says Pete Brown
Among the many strengths and weaknesses we have in this industry, one thing we’re absolutely brilliant at is moaning. We’re world-class moaners. Every week, the pages of this magazine are full of people complaining about stuff.

Even when there’s good news, people find a negative within it to moan about.

When I launched The Cask Report a couple of years ago, talking about how cask ale was outperforming the rest of the beer category, driving footfall into pubs and growing market share, the first comments in the trade press were along the lines of “Yeah, but it’s still in decline, isn’t it?”

This is fairly typical: even when we try to be positive, we can’t do it without having a good moan. Many champions of cask ale or craft beer can’t praise its virtues without having a go at ‘industrial yellow fizz’. We can’t champion beer generally without slagging off wine or cider. And we can’t sing the praises of pubs without moaning about supermarkets.  

I’m not saying that we don’t have plenty to moan about — of course we do. But if we’re going to complain, it kind of behoves us to do something about the objects of our ire when we can. If we don’t, it’s just moaning, and we can’t be surprised if no one listens to us.

It’s March, and that means this month’s biggest moan will be about the beer-duty escalator. On 23 March we can expect another 6% rise in duty. This will happen. And we will all have a good moan about it. Justifiably, we will be outraged at what looks like a contemptuous dismissal of the case for well-run pubs — another tightening of the screw that’s torturing our industry. “Why won’t they listen to us?” we’ll exclaim.

Well, this year, Hobgoblin beer has launched a campaign to gather 100,000 signatures on a government e-petition that would force the issue to be debated in Parliament.  

Government e-petitions were relaunched last year. Anyone can table a petition, and if it gains 100,000 signatures it goes forward to be debated in the House of Commons in the time allocated to motions from back-benchers.

The relaunch immediately generated news interest as people flocked online to campaign for the reintroduction of the death penalty, and then the stopping of benefits for last summer’s rioters.  Debate raged in the broadsheets about whether this was the dawn of a more open democracy, or the introduction of a new form of mob rule that would see government policy increasingly resembling the opinions of Top Gear presenters.  

Perhaps the only reason there hasn’t yet been a debate on the return of the death penalty is that the people who want it can’t work together. Within hours of being  launched early last August, 40 of the first 200 e-petitions were about bringing back hanging, effectively ensuring that no single petition will ever get the number of signatures that it needs.
This is something our industry knows all about, of course, with a plethora of industry bodies and campaigning groups all wanting similar things but disagreeing on certain points, and rarely able to mount a coherent campaign on anything.

An honourable exception must be the recent initiative undertaken by the British Beer & Pub Association, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) and the Society of Independent Brewers, who joined forces to lobby on beer duty.

That’s great — but the press release makes no mention of the Hobgoblin petition. That’s something we can all support. It takes two minutes to sign. Signing it doesn’t mean you’re supporting this one beer brand. The wording of the petition is impossible to disagree with, if you care about pubs. I can hear publicans saying “What’s the point? They never  listen,” and “Even if we get the debate it won’t make any difference, they won’t scrap it.” Even if this was true, that’s not quite the point.

The point of signing is to demonstrate widespread opposition to the duty escalator. Politicians want to be liked — if they’re hated, they lose their jobs. At the moment politicians of all main parties feel they can hammer pubs with the duty escalator because no one really minds. The reason taxes on fuel are delayed or scrapped far more often than taxes on beer is because they are currently seen as a vote-loser. Opposition is focused and vocal — and includes an e-petition with 1.8 million signatures.

CAMRA has about 135,000 members. We still have around 60,000 pubs, employing 600,000 people. If we can’t muster 100,000 signatures for a petition against the duty escalator, then we deserve all the duty hikes we get. Go and sign it. Now. Or stop moaning.
Visit http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/29664

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