Duty-bound to try again

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Wind, Excise

'Time to prove that pubs fit with government's agenda,' says Rob Willock
'Time to prove that pubs fit with government's agenda,' says Rob Willock
So, after the time and effort the industry expended trying to persuade the Government to halt the alcohol duty escalator, George Osborne dashed our hopes with a single sentence: “Today I have no further changes to make to the main duty rates set out by my predecessor.”

No exemptions, no finessing, no recognition that the escalator is harming British pubs and no relief from above-inflation duty hikes. Just 18 words that immediately added a further 5% to beer duty.

Oh, and then a new tax for licensees to worry about — on games machines.

It was a particularly disappointing Budget for licensees insomuch as it shows the Government just isn’t listening. It seems happy to milk pubs and brewers of an ever increasing share of their income without any concern for the consequences.

An increase of 42% in beer tax in just four years has undoubtedly contributed to pub closures and job losses at a time when consumers’ disposable incomes are being squeezed by inflation and suppressed earnings growth. Pubgoers are suffering ‘bill shock’, and wondering if their money might be better spent elsewhere.

So what should the industry do now? Pay £250,000 for dinner at Downing Street (cheap shot)? Some licensees on our web forum have suggested we should go on full attack against the Government. One wrote: “We’ve been on totally the wrong track kissing up to politicians — pretending they care about us. They need to be told: ‘Help us, or we’ll make damn sure you’re out.’”

We should certainly turn up the volume and leave our representatives in Parliament in no doubt that — like the road hauliers who were successful in achieving a vehicle excise duty freeze — we expect fair treatment. But do we have the wherewithal to strike, to disrupt and to threaten in the way truck drivers do?

Brewers could refuse to supply the Strangers Bar in Parliament and pubs could ban coalition MPs by adding them to the Pubwatch database for causing ‘criminal damage’. And ultimately, pubs could close for a day in protest at beer duty. But all of this would probably hurt us more than it hurts them.

Ours is an industry based on the principles of hospitality. So we ought to aim to kill the Government with kindness rather than opprobrium. I am reminded of Aesop’s fable: The North Wind and the Sun.

The North Wind and the Sun had a quarrel about which of them was the stronger, as a traveller passed along the road wrapped in a cloak.

“Let us agree,” said the Sun, “that he is the stronger who can strip that traveller of his cloak.”

“Very well,” growled the North Wind, and at once sent a cold, howling blast against the traveller. As the wind blew the traveller wrapped his cloak closely around himself. The harder the wind blew, the tighter he held it. The wind‘s efforts were in vain.

Then the Sun began to shine. As the beams shone down in pleasant warmth the traveller unfastened and then removed his cloak. Kind persuasion won where force and bluster failed.

Our industry needs to tune into the Government’s agenda, rather than complain about ill-treatment, which isn’t getting us anywhere.

Pubs can help the Government reduce youth unemployment; and they can also play a big part in helping David Cameron communicate his Big Society vision. Perhaps when the Government sees us as part of the solution, it will treat us better.

Related topics: Legislation

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