Opinion

Pandemic could mean a reboot for humanity not just hospitality

By Andy Slee, chairman of Black Sheep brewery

- Last updated on GMT

Post-crisis warning: people will remember those who helped and those who put themselves first
Post-crisis warning: people will remember those who helped and those who put themselves first

Related tags: Beer, Black sheep brewery

The fact you’re reading this means pubs and beer play an important part in your life. And, as such, during the past few weeks, we have all had to reassess the meaning of ‘important’, so my thoughts go out to any of you directly affected by Covid-19.

The content for this article has changed dramatically in the past few weeks. Indeed, at times it has changed by the hour. Never has our industry known a time like it.

From the moment the Prime Minister advised UK citizens not to visit pubs and restaurants, life has been a whirlwind for everyone working in brewing and pubs.

The word ‘unprecedented’ has never been used so often by so many. 

I would like to pay particular tribute to the teams of the two breweries I know best – Black Sheep and Titanic – for the professional way everyone has dealt with their own unique situation in a time of huge personal uncertainty.

From what I hear, with the odd exception, similar stoicism has been common in pubs and breweries across the land.

British beer and pubs are a force for good in the UK. They support almost 1m jobs, contribute £22bn per annum to the exchequer, but are also the focal point of communities, providing places to meet and be together. Beer is our national drink. 

The structure of the industry here is unique globally and provides diversity in every sense of the word. From the big companies offering well-known brands and experiences to small, local entrepreneurs who thrive on innovation and community connection. There is space for all and that’s what makes it such a wonderful industry to be part of and support.

A reboot for humanity

Sat looking at an empty pub or mash tun, I imagine most are focusing on survival, so what is next for us?

This feels like a real reboot moment for humanity, never mind brewing and pubs, so understanding society is important before being clear on our role.

So what do we know?

  • Social distancing will be a fact of life for many of our older customers until we have a Covid-19 vaccine, and certainty around who has and hasn’t contracted it
  • For the next few years, the short-term lockdown and pub closures may be here again
  • For the Millennial generation – so crucial to our future – interaction via apps like Zoom​ or Houseparty​ could well become the norm. We already know a high proportion of them don’t drink
  • It’ll be a good while before there will be the free movement of tourists in and out of the UK

On the upside, I’m sensing increased connection between people and local independent businesses of all types. Those at the heart of their communities will play an important role in bringing us together over the recovery period ahead – music to the ears to most of you reading this.

I also have faith in my fellow man to remember those businesses that stood up and helped us get through this crisis and, frankly those who put themselves first and didn’t. 

I have huge confidence in our ingenuity as an industry to provide beers, ways of reaching drinkers and bars that will attract the customers we need. But, to do it, we will need the right economic conditions.

We’ve heard a lot in recent years about how much Government should or shouldn’t interfere in our lives. The state has never been needed as much in our lifetimes and, economically, it has stepped up to the plate. But let’s be honest, they have us on a life support machine so we will need a recuperation plan to help us thrive. 

The principle of “in this together” needs to be central to all our thinking.

Tax still favours online businesses

For years, the corporate tax burden has been too skewed in favour of online businesses, who will, ironically, benefit further from lockdown.

Black Sheep Brewery pays nearly 40% its turnover in UK beer duty. 

That’s four times greater than eBay’s UK corporation tax bill on its declared UK turnover of £200m. 

Our annual £7m beer duty bill alone is a little under a quarter of Facebook’s total UK tax bill on its turnover of £1.6bn. These facts offend common sense and need to change.

All tech giants should pay their fair share to society and this needs to be front and central of any Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) drive on how to pay for help for us. 

Within the sector, is it survival of the fittest? Yes, but what does that now mean? Being big merely through deep pockets and large resources is perhaps something that will be seen through more clearly than before. 

Possibly a 21st century definition of success sees companies evolving with clear purpose that marries social and financial progress. Consistent and appealing behaviour and a commitment to the new definition of community that allows the smaller players that lead innovation chance to thrive again. 

It’s the passion of the UK population for beer and pubs that gives me confidence. That, with the collaboration between our amazing industry, will help us thrive again.

Related topics: Beer

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