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Local authority higher-strength schemes

On 11/11/14 by Jeremy Beadles (Chair, Future Beer Group)

As Chairman of the Future Beer Group, I was delighted to be asked to write a guest blog for the BBPA, especially at a time when there is such positive news for our category: two historic cuts to beer duty, consecutive quarters of beer sales growth, and rising consumer interest in beer – there is much to be optimistic about.

However, one area that is already a concern for many, and should be a concern for all, is the rapid spread of local authority restrictions on higher-strength beers and ciders. Local authority higher-strength schemes represent a serious threat, not just because they seek to restrict our market access, but because they risk fundamentally undermining the reputation of the beer and cider categories as a whole.

Many of the challenges we face as brewers, whether it is taxation or advertising and promotional restrictions, apply equally to other alcohol categories. But the move by almost 100 local authorities to restrict the sale of higher-strength beer and cider unfairly targets and stigmatises our category and risks undermining our reputation as beer producers. Furthermore, higher–strength refers to beer and cider with an ABV of 5.5% and above – which inadvertently targets some of our great historic, local and imported beers. What’s Theakston’s Old Peculier ever done to deserve that?

Whilst it is right that we focus on challenging the individual schemes, and the questionable evidence upon which they are established, it is also more important than ever to continue to promote the positives of our category. That is why the ‘There’s a Beer For That’ campaign is such a crucial piece of work – reminding consumers of the passion that we have for beer in Britain and breaking down some of the old-fashioned perceptions of beer.

The action taken by some local authorities to remove beers and ciders with an ABV of 5.5% and above also fails to recognise the work that is being done, often hand in hand with Government, to tackle irresponsible consumption. It is worth noting that, where these schemes have seen most success, it has not been through arbitrarily de-listing products but by taking a sensible approach to partnership working. That is why we need to remain on the front foot and must be prepared to demonstrate to local authorities that there are range of evidence-based and effective solutions available to them to help them tackle alcohol related crime and anti-social behaviour; such as Best Bar None, Community Alcohol Partnerships, Pub Watch and Purple Flag.

We also need to continue to remind people about the downward trends in alcohol consumption in the UK. The vast majority of adults enjoy alcohol responsibly, with overall alcohol consumption dropping by 18% since 2004. Government figures show that alcohol-related crime and drinking amongst young people is also in decline. This does not mean that we should be complacent, but it does mean that we are in strong position to encourage Government, at a national and local level, to pursue targeted and evidence-based solutions.

With the May 2015 General Election firmly on the horizon, we need to remain alert to the challenges that a new parliament, with a potentially different political mix, may bring. There seems to be a consensus across the political parties about the need to devolve more political control to local authorities, and to the devolved assemblies and parliaments. This means that, what at first appeared to be quite a unique challenge with local authority restrictions on higher-strength, could become more commonplace in future. Our response must be to continue to promote beer through campaigns such as There’s a Beer For That, delivering the highest standards of social responsibility, whilst engaging nationally and locally with support for evidence based and targeted action that can make a real difference. With breweries and pubs across the UK, we are well equipped to engage at a local and national level, demonstrating how effective we can all be as local partners.


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