Thursday, 27 September 2018

Scrap the duty on cask and keg beer sold in pubs

I called on a local publican (business not pleasure on this occasion) to talk about some issues with his pub. It will come as no surprise to anyone (except perhaps the idiots in public health) to know that the pub in question, a wet-led pub, is struggling - takings have halved as people drink less and when they do, drink at home. It's not so long ago when you could walk to the local with a tenner and come home an hour or so later, suitably oiled, with change.

Meanwhile politicians, locally and nationally, babble on about how pubs are the heart of the community, places to be celebrated, supported and encouraged. Or so the rhetoric goes. The problem is that it's just that, rhetoric. For sure, politicians have done idiotic things like make every pub in Otley an "asset of community value" in the silly belief that this is somehow going to help them stay in business. None of this, however fine it sounds, does anything to sell more beer and, in case all my fellow politicians have forgotten, selling beer is what pubs are for.

We can't do anything about changing consumer habits - if, for reasons of health or taste, people drink less beer the chances are that the places selling beer will struggle. But we can and should stop putting barriers in the way of those beer selling places - pubs - succeeding. Britain has the highest beer taxes in Europe. We've banned smoking in pubs. And a host of petty regulations add cost to marginal businesses. All before we get to talk about rapacious pubcos (the pub I visited isn't owned by one of these) and other popular excuses for the decline in the pub.

Right now, the best thing we could to for these vital community assets would be to scrap beer duty for keg and cask beer on-sales. This wouldn't eliminate the price differential between a pint in a pub and a pint in a supermarket but it would level the playing field sufficiently to give the remaining wet-led pubs a fighting chance of surviving. It would be good if pubs were given an option of having a smoking room but I'm not holding my breath on that one.

If we think that going to the local for a pint fights loneliness, promotes community and turns a dormitory into a place then we should do something about it. Gabbling on about "community pubs" and weeping political tears when a pub closes is all most politicians do right now (in between putting out lies and exaggerations about the impact of drinking beer on our health). It's time to put up  - let's scrap the duty on cask and keg beer sold in pubs, let's do something that actually helps pubs for a change.



Curmudgeon said...

Sorry, but this does just come across as special pleading, even if it's on behalf of something dear to my heart. As I've argued in the past, the decline of pubs is basically a result of social and legislative change. The role of price is relatively minor. Most responsible people would not drink significantly more beer in pubs even if it was a quid a pint cheaper. But I suppose it would at least prove that those saying "cut beer tax to save pubs" were barking up the wrong tree...

Junican said...


Perhaps the point is not so much to reduce prices but to improve the profitability of the pubs.

Mark Wadsworth said...

It's VAT that makes the big difference between supermarket and pub prices.

Beer duty is flat rate, so reduces the relative difference in price between supermarkets and pubs.