Tuesday 9 March 2010

“Hypothermia has become a smoking-related disease under this Government”.

From Great British Beer Festival 2009

“Hypothermia has become a smoking-related disease under this Government”.

That was a quote from Nigel Evans MP (pictured above at the Great British Beer Festival last year), Vice-Chair of the Parliamentary Beer Group and taken from Hansard 23 February, the Westminster Hall Debate on the Future of the British Pub which he secured.
A better attended debate than the one last year in the Commons Chamber which saw 6 MPs attend, the Westminster Hall debate had a lot more MPs in attendance and the one and a half hours devoted to the debate was well spent with some intelligent point raised by the members. Newly appointed Pubs Minister John Healey was absent, which just goes to prove the importance that the Government of Colostomy Brown put on the importance of the pub.

Nigel Evans had done his research for the debate, quoting the landlord of his local, the Swan with Two Necks in Pendleton, along with the landlady of the The Durham Ox in Longridge. Nigel also raised the following points:
  • Pub prices used to be twice those of supermarkets, but they are now much greater-sometimes seven times as much-with aggressive pricing by the supermarkets. 
  • An 11-gallon barrel of Fosters costs £127 from Heineken, but from a wholesaler it would cost £92. 
  • Cask ales-nine or 10 gallons-cost £96 from Heineken, or £55 from a wholesaler.

According to Nigel Evans MP, Irene Nuttall of the Durham Ox listed the following problems facing pubs:

1 Aggressive supermarket pricing is crippling for a lot of pubs.

2 The tie can be oppressive and should be opened up.

3 Dry rent is paid, but a lot of publicans also pay residential rent, as they are required to live on the premises, which can be incredibly expensive and insurance on top of that takes a huge chunk of money.

4 The duty on pub-sold beer is too high

5 Business rates are too high. Irene Nuttall is paying £4,617, and although there is a small amount of business rate relief, for her it amounts to only £182.

6 Council tax must be paid on top of that sum for the residential part of the property.

7 She has a TV in her own flat and a TV downstairs, so she needs two licences for the BBC, even though both sets are in the same building.

8 The water rates cost several hundreds of pounds.

9 Sky Sports costs £594 in a relatively small publication

10 The building insurance of £1,500, which must be paid, even though Irene Nuttall does not own the building.

11 Electricity costs £400 a month. The gas bill is £850 a quarter, and bank charges of £90 a month are charged for paying money in, taking money out and direct debits.

12 “She finished by saying, "I wonder why I'm doing it." Considering all the pressures on one pub, I think exactly the same thing. She clearly loves the business in which she operates, otherwise she simply would not do it”.

Greg Knight MP, East Yorkshire raised a very good point that has been devastating for many pubs and clubs, “The heavy-handed way [the smoking ban] had been introduced in the United Kingdom....and that is is ludicrous that the only way in which a licensee can provide an indoor smoking room for his or her customers is if they happen to operate on a boat?”

Nigel Evans replied, “The way in which the smoking ban was introduced was far stricter than in almost any other country. There are 12 million smokers out there, and a lot of them used to go to pubs, but now that is clearly not the case. I know that my right hon. Friend and hon. Members from other parties are trying to get changes in the law, not to lift the smoking ban but to amend it sensibly so that smokers will at least be treated like human beings when they go to pubs and clubs, and be looked after as opposed to being treated like lepers. A friend of my right hon. Friend, Antony Worrall Thompson, stated:

"The smoking ban has had an extraordinary detrimental effect on pubs and clubs. The legislation as it stands is excessive and I would like to see it amended."

As I have noted, MPs from all parties have co-operated with my right hon. Friend in his campaign. We are all familiar with seeing people standing outside pubs having a cigarette in sub-zero temperatures, in the rain and the snow with all the elements against them. Hypothermia has become a smoking-related disease under this Government”.

That last comment from Nigel was so good I used it as the title of this post.

Pubfacts from Mark Hastings of the British Beer & Pub Association as reported by Nigel Evans MP:

  • On average pubs inject about £80,000 a year into the local community. 
  • On average a pub pays £107,000 in taxes
  • Over half a million people are employed in pubs
  • 380,000 people are employed in associated industries
  • Beer taxes have risen 20% since March 2008 with another 2% above inflation expected at the budget this Month. 
  • Research by Oxford Economics suggests that halting the proposed Budget increase of 2 per cent. above inflation could save 7,500 jobs and the Government tax take would increase.
  • Since March 2008, 4,100 pubs have gone bust.
  • Beer sales are down 16 million pints a day compared with 1979.
  • Turnover on beer in the past 12 months alone is down £650 million.
  • Since 1997, beer duty has gone up 14 per cent. in real terms, yet spirits duty is down by 20 per cent.
  • Every year, 13.2 million tourists visit pubs in the United Kingdom

According to David Hamilton (Midlothian) (Labour), “The Government have the opportunity to separate draft beer tariffs from those of normal beer where canned beer is involved. It would need a change in the European legislation, but surely all parties can agree across the board that if we change the draft beer position, that would give an edge to all the pubs and clubs that are involved”.

Mr. Evans: I could not agree more; I am 100 per cent. with the hon. Gentleman. What he describes needs to be done. I have asked Ministers about it and every time, they say, "Brussels won't allow it. There's a problem with Brussels." Let us sort out Brussels. The pub is an iconic British institution. If we want to support pubs and ensure that supermarket pricing does not give supermarkets such a great advantage, the one thing that we need to do is recognise that the product served in a pub is different from the product that people receive when they get 24 cans from a supermarket. Therefore, different taxation on draught beer-pump-pulled beer-needs to be put in place.

Now this is an interesting idea, a differential price for cask and packaged beer. Of course our Parliament has no such remit to introduce this law and we have to ask our true political masters in the Fourth Reich under Von Rumpey to legislate for this. Somehow cannot see this happening, the EU supporting our unique pub industry? Hell they will be giving us a vote on issues that matter next.?

Nigel Evans MP summed up his speech with this:

We cannot let the pub die. It is the hub, the social centre, the heart of villages and towns. It is where business deals are done, family occasions are celebrated, and darts teams, pool teams and football teams play, celebrate their wins and drown their sorrows. It is where every problem is discussed and where, as the Minister will know, a Government in waiting drink regularly. It is where the general election will be discussed daily and every evening. It is where we as candidates will banter with the regulars, and on election night it is where we shall have a final tipple, perhaps, to steady our nerves. It is where I have celebrated every election victory since moving into my village, with locals, friends and those who have helped out in the campaign.

The British pub is iconic. It represents the very heart of Britain. We have seen so much of the fabric of our way of life threatened in so many ways over the decades, from post offices to churches and from village schools to small shops and rural bus services. Now is the time to make a stand, so the message for the Minister for pubs is that we are holding him to his word about giving a helping hand now to the great British pub. Now is the time to deliver. I hope that at the end of the debate, this Minister will do just that-stand and deliver for the great British pub.

Teetotaller David Drew MP (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op) raised a point about the high price of soft drinks in pubs as well as having a go at Whitbread and Pub Companies, before saying “Sadly, from all my experience of talking to publicans, I have to say that it is the norm that people are being driven out. I accept that the Government have a role to play in terms of how they price beer, spirits and all the other things for which they are responsible, but I shall hold fire on them for the moment and concentrate my energies on highlighting the complete unfairness in the way in which pubcos now operate with regard to the people they should hold dearest, who are of course the people who run the pubs that are making money for them. I agree with much that the hon. Member for Ribble Valley said about things such as Sky TV and the way in which all those costs accumulate and make it much more difficult for people to run a pub”.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con) said, “......St. Albans apparently has the most pubs per square mile of any place in England, and pubs are part of the historic street scene. Anybody who has been to St. Albans will have seen the historic pubs, and there can even be two or three in one short road. Those pubs traditionally supported people on the many pilgrimages to St. Albans, so they go back a long way".

Interesting snippet there about the number of pubs in St. Albans, hardly surprising that CAMRA have their headquarters there. Ann Main also gave Chav Palace operators JD Wetherspoons a mention, “.... The Waterend Barn in St. Albans is synonymous with some unfortunate incidents, and I have seen people sitting outside it vomiting into the bushes late at night. I have also seen the ambulance crews picking them up”. No doubt Tim Martin will have something to say about that?

“It is a real shame that the smoking ban, which many people welcomed, has not only hit some smaller pubs disproportionately, but brought them into conflict with some of their neighbours. Pubs have to create smoking shelters, or people have to stand in the pub garden. As a result, doors are opened, and music drifts over to houses that were not previously bothered by noise. There is chatter, laughter and other noise outside in the garden in the winter, which one would never have expected. That causes conflicts with local residents. The legislation, which was introduced for the best possible reasons, has therefore had some unfortunate consequences.

I pay tribute to pubs for the fact that they are not only the heart of the community, but put things back. I have regularly done the prize draw with Cilla in the Three Hammers pub, and all the funds raised go to our local hospice. Pubs are not just drinking dens. Every time a VAT rise goes on to the price of a pint of beer, the assumption is that it will be on the pint in the pub”.

It is important that we look at the unfair blame that is often shifted on to small local pubs. In St. Albans, it is difficult to finger the pub that made the last irresponsible sale to a young person. If there is only one pub in a village, it is easy to see where people who are causing trouble are coming from, but it is hard to do that in areas such as St. Albans, and we are not alone in that-many historic cities have the same problem.

On behalf of the smaller, well run pubs in St. Albans, I welcome the possibility of a rethinking of the tied pub, because damage is being done to young people who are prepared to take on what are in effect historic buildings, in conservation areas.

The pub is potentially picking up the reputation of causing antisocial behaviour in the community, but perhaps we should be looking to the supermarkets or small corner shops that sell people alcohol irresponsibly”.

Quite a good contribution to the debate from the MP from St Albans who is no doubt familiar with the problems of anti-social behaviour in her constituency.

John Grogan MP (Selby, Labour), joined the debate by first paying tribute to those who had spoken before him and to Nigel Evans MP for securing the debate in the first place.

“Eighty per cent. of people visit a pub at some time in the year, and very few other institutions, even the Church or the Post Office, have such a reach. Perhaps only our most popular television channels have it in the course of a year”.

John Grogan MP then preceded to mention the 'takeover in all but name' of Mitchells and Butlers Pub Company who employ 40,000 people. Interesting bits of information there on the possible future of this company and the next few weeks should be very interesting as to the future of this company.

“CAMRA has suggested that rate relief, which has been a big boon to village pubs in recent years, should be extended more widely, to community pubs in suburban areas and small market towns. That needs to be considered. A proper definition of a community pub is obviously needed, but I think that local authorities would be well placed to judge whether a pub is a community pub. That would be a good way forward”.

“Various hon. Members have discussed putting a lower rate of duty on draught beer. I want to underline the fact that that is a current issue. The European Commission is reviewing the rules on duty now, and I hope that all three Front Benches will unite in what they say about this and that the British Government will argue-although we need allies, and potentially have them in such countries as Germany and the Czech Republic-that the European Commission should allow different nation states to impose a lower rate of duty on draught beer. That could do as much for pubs in the next Parliament as the lower rate of duty on small brewers has done for the expansion of micro-brewers in this Parliament”.

“.........If we are honest, it is unlikely that any Government in the near future will reduce the overall take from alcohol tax, given the pressure on public finances. However, there is a strong and fair case to be made that beer and pubs have lost out in recent years. A rebalancing is needed with spirit tax and duty on cider”.

That statement hits the nail on the head, no Government will reduce alcohol tax, it is the cash cow that is there to be milked until the poor bovine dies of dehydration.

Andrew Pelling MP (Croydon, Central) (Ind) joined the debate but apart from the often quoted and inaccurate statement “beer and wine is cheaper than water in supermarkets” he contributed little to what had been said earlier. Luckily he gave way in his speech to a first-class interruption by Sir Nicholas Winterton, “ ....... Would he not describe the debate initiated by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) as an emergency debate? The huge number of pubs now closing will create a huge problem for many communities. For many, the village pub or the community pub is the only facility where people can meet. It is important that the Government take the matter seriously, and that the Budget that we are shortly to have announces some relief for those in pubs and the smaller breweries.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West, Liberal Democrat), now joined the debate. Now I have a lot of time for Greg, he nearly missed a train home once in order to let me finish doing an interview with him! Rather quote directly from Hansard, here are the bullet points made by Greg:
  • We need to consider the level of beer duty and the way in which it has risen.
  • We want the Minister to tell us that the duty will now be frozen
  • We want to see the abolition of the beer duty escalator that has caused so much damage.
  • We should consider a lower rate for draught beer, which is something that both all-party parliamentary groups support.
  • I should like to explore the possibility of a lower duty for real ale.
  • Cask-conditioned ale is more costly to produce, store and serve, so I agree that we should take the fight to Europe.
  • We should also consider minimum pricing, which the hon. Member for Selby also champions. However, let me add a note of caution. People talk about putting the level at 50p, but an independent body should assess the level so that responsible drinkers, either at home or in the pub, are not penalised. Such a scheme will help pubs to compete, especially as they offer that uniqueness that we all know about.

“We need to consider live music in pubs. The Live Music Bill is going through the other place, but I ask the Government to review their exemption level of 100 people because it is not sufficient. The Bill stipulates 200 people, which would do more to help pubs as well as encouraging more live music.

Rate relief is another area of consideration. The community pub inquiry report stated that there was no recognition of the contribution that pubs make to the community, which was also mentioned by the hon. Member for St. Albans (Anne Main). Pubs make vast contributions to charity and offer a hub to the community, but that is not reflected in the rate system.”

......We still have the absurd situation in which it is perfectly legal to demolish a free-standing pub overnight without planning permission or to turn it into a restaurant, a shop, a café, or, ludicrously in England and Wales, a financial services office. I have nothing against accountants, but let us face it, they are not hubs of community life.

The last line raised a chuckle from myself.

Greg did gave way to Sir Nicholas Winterton, “Does the hon. Gentleman, whom I respect for what he is doing on the issue of pubs and beer, not believe that the tied system is very important for the smaller brewer?”

Greg Mulholland MP , “That is an interesting point. One of the problems with this debate is that that argument comes out. The big pub companies say, "You shouldn't abolish the tie." No one is talking about abolishing it; we are talking about reforming it to make it fair for the tenant and the customer. The inflated beer prices are bad for pub consumers and the unfair rents are closing pubs. It is not about abolition, but having a fair and transparent system, which we do not have. The excellent Business and Enterprise Committee report last year highlighted that issue and showed that even when pubs had a turnover of more than £500,000, more than 50 per cent. of lessees earned less than £15,000. That cannot be right, and it is about time that the Government did something about it. That means not waiting for the Office of Fair Trading, which has shown that it does not understand the issue and that it is of little use in this area, but referring the matter to the Competition Commission. The report concluded:

"The time has now come for Government to intervene to ensure a fair and legal framework."

Will the Minister indicate that the Government will do that, because this is an issue of fairness and of exploitation of workers-the kind of things that one would hope a Labour Government would take seriously.

The British Beer and Pub Association is trying to stall the process. I have nothing against the organisation, and I agree with it on many things, including on beer duty and minimum pricing, but it represents the big pub companies and breweries. It is not the voice of the industry as a whole. It has introduced what it calls a UK industry framework, but it is nothing of the sort because it applies only to its own members. As Greene King has shown, all one has to do if one does not agree is to leave the BBPA. In the meantime, the Independent Pub Confederation has come together with a number of organisations-CAMRA, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Guild of Master Victuallers, the Society of Independent Brewers, trade unions and Justice for Licensees-to call for, among other things, reform of the tie.

If we are serious about British pubs, I want to make it clear that what we do not need is yet another debate. I am glad that we have had this opportunity for a debate today, but we do not need another debate to say how important pubs are. I have said that again and again and again-and they are important. However, that importance is not being recognised in planning law. Also, we are not dealing with the fact that more than 50,000 of our pubs are owned by pub companies that, in too many cases, really do not care about the impact of pub closures on communities. We need structural reform and reform of planning law. We also need to give the pub back to the British people.

I simply ask everyone here today to look at the Independent Pub Confederation's excellent charter "Time for a Change", and at CAMRA's beer drinkers and pub goers charter. Those charters are real manifestos for reform and reform is the only thing that we should be talking about today and in the future.

Tobias Ellwood MP (Bournemouth, East) (Con), compared the debate in Westminster Hall to a Cheers, with all the familiar faces around the table. Again the absence of the Pubs Minister John Healey was noted with Mr Ellwood sying that, “He [John Healey] says that he has a few ideas in his locker; today would have been the ideal day to open that locker and let us see what is actually going on. It is a little bit like someone realising that their glasses are in their pocket at the very end of their driving test; it is a bit late to put things into focus and it is certainly a bit late to impress anyone”.

  • The contribution that brewing and pubs make to our economy is huge-£28 billion a year.
  •  13 million visits are made by tourists every single year to pubs.
  •  One in four of us here in Britain drinks in a pub every week.
  • 90 per cent. of all alcoholic drink in Britain is brewed domestically, which is another very positive statistic that was cited by other Members earlier.
  • The pub tie needs to be reviewed
  • 4,000 pubs have shut since the Budget of 2008
  • The Treasury will lose about £250 million in receipts by 2010 if the present rate is maintained.

.................I am afraid that the Government simply do not get it. They do not understand that by looking after the pub industry, they can make more money for the Exchequer, help defend our communities and preserve the glue that holds our society together. Instead, they are trying to turn a nation of quizzers into gamblers, which is simply wrong. It is time to say goodbye to this Government unless they can come up with something far more imaginative, which I do not think will be the case”.

Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Peter Gerry Sutcliffe)

..........One thing that this Government cannot be accused of is not having, listening to and responding to a number of debates about pubs and their future.

Not at all Gerry, the couple of things this Government has not done is to listen to and respond to the problems facing the industry. Instead we have tax after tax on the pub and brewing business as well as legislation such as the crazy smoking bill and the ridiculous Mandatory Code as well as all those Government-funded fake charities churning out made-up figures on the dangers of alcohol.

Sutcliffe gave way to Nigel Evans who asked, “The Minister is in power. He can say something about taxation. What is he going to do?

Sutcliffe: “I will deal with that question. I just thought that it was interesting that the Opposition did not deal with it when we touched on it”.

Unfortunately the Under-Secretary did not deal with that question and the debate finished soon afterwards. So one-and half hours of debate without the Minister for Pubs present on the future of the British Pub resulted in a string of facts and figures about how much pubs contribute to the community, how we all love them and very little on what can be done to save them. As the present Government does not appear to have any interest in supporting pubs it is hardly surprising that no firm commitments to help save the pub by reducing taxation were mentioned. Roll on the General Election when pub-hating Colostomy Brown and his party are voted out of power. It can not come soon enough for our pubs.



Curmudgeon said...

Good report, worthy of an in-depth read.

But will pub-hating Chianti Cameron really make any noticeable difference? (and you know I loathe Brown)

Also the "pub prices are 7 times those in supermarkets" quote only refers to the most extreme special offers. If you look at normal prices, the differential is still not much more than two times for lagers, and only around 66% for premium ales.

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

Wow, I'll have to spare a bit more time to read all of this!

I remember a landlady at a pub I worked in complained of the price margin on beer (back in the early noughties). If I remember rightly she was making well under £0.20 per pint and at one time given increased duty was struggling to make a few pence per pint sold. I'm not even sure if that was taking into account all of the above expenses. And she had to work hard long hours to boot, always with a cheery face. Not sure how she did it (she has since sold on to someone younger as she hadn't been desperately well).


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