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Promoting British Beer in Cologne

On 07/10/13 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

I flew to Cologne at the weekend for ANUGA, one of the largest food and drink festivals in Europe. I was there at the invitation of UK Trade & Investment who asked me to attend the launch of the UK Food and Drink International Action Plan with Owen Paterson MP, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs. We have been working with UKTI for some months now to develop a beer action plan as part of their export strategy and at this event they launched a plan to assist up to 200 alcohol producers to export more, with a targeted programme of inward and outward business visits to grow exports internationally.

Upon arrival at Kolnsky, I knew I was in the right place when I saw the Great British Mini, decked out in the Union Jack sitting on the forecourt. Inside was the Secretary of State and his Ministerial party. Not one to hold back when the opportunity arises, I introduced myself and we were whisked to the 28th floor for the launch.

It was an impressive evening. A whole range of British companies and organisations, many of whom had stands at the trade fair, were present. Owen Paterson spoke (in German as well as English). He talked about a food and drink industry worth £9.6 billion to the EU economy and £18 billion in exports. He had recently attended launches in New York, Moscow and Shanghai and was today launching the international action plan. He talked about biscuits, inevitably whisky, but finally beer. Armed with the statistics I had given him earlier, he told the assembled audience that beer exports in 2012 were worth £570 million - I glowed with pride! He stayed all evening, came back and asked me if there was anyone I wished him to meet - there was clear support for us as a category.

Whilst none of our largest members were present, there were a considerable number of micro-breweries who either had stands, or were part of larger buying groups. Bath Ales, Butcombe Brewery, Strathaven Ales, Wharfebank Brewery, Nick Stafford representing both SIBA and Hambleton Ales, Oakham Ales, Ampleforth Abbey (which I always thought was a school, but it also provides a licence for the brewing of a rather interesting dark stout) and Cairngorm brewery who allowed me to try Ginger Rodent, brewed for Danny Alexander MP, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury.

I talked with Owen Paterson about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP – the ongoing trade deal negotiations between the EU and US) and export barriers with the US. He will shortly be visiting Shepherd Neame to open a water treatment plant, so we will have another opportunity to influence his thinking!

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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Conservative Party Conference – points of note

On 04/10/13 by Sophie McIntyre

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The first point well worth flagging is, of course, the picture above. The Chairman of the BBPA's North West Executive, Richard Kershaw of Joseph Holt, arranged for the Chancellor, Rt Hon George Osborne MP, to receive the North West Beer Drinker's Champion award at Conference. The above picture shows BBPA Chief Executive, Brigid Simmonds, presenting him with the award and thanking him once again for the much needed cut to beer duty in year's Budget. The Chancellor even raised a rare smile during his conference speech as he mentioned his recent Budget cut in beer duty.

BBPA meetings aside, the Prime Minister delivered his speech to Conservative Party Conference this week. In contrast to his previous conference speech, it was delivered more as a response to the Leader of the opposition’s pre-new labour speech at Brighton, instead of being a defining statement of Government strategy. Cameron did not live up to the impressive memory skills of his contender – he was even stumbling over some of the words on the autocue – but in terms of content, the message was positive but a long way from triumphant.

He suggested that the economy is on the mend but is not yet fully healed and stressed the need for the Tories to remain in power in order to nurse it back to full health. There were no dramatic policy announcements, other than the brief declaration that the party wants to see under 25s ‘earning or learning’ (which has received typically mixed views from the pundits this week). The speech was more of a statement of what the Conservatives have achieved in power and a reassertion of the party’s traditional values. Cameron attacked Ed Miliband for embracing a "damaging, nonsensical, twisted economic policy" and claimed Labour would take Britain back to dark days of 1970s socialism, whilst his Conservatives were the party of the future, the guarantors of a "land of opportunity". The rather lacklustre speech disguised the fact that it had actually been a good conference for the Conservatives. The green shoots of economic recovery seemed to have raised party spirits, the recent Syria fiasco and divisions over the EU were hardly touched upon and even Boris Johnson made light of his leadership ambitions.

Away from Manchester and returning to the bigger picture - there has been a clear ideological contrast between the parties throughout this year’s conference season. Clegg, Miliband and Cameron all used their key-note conference speeches to set out what they really believe and in doing so firmed up the battle-lines for the 2015 General Election. The Conservative/Labour split on business is perhaps the most important, however. It was Ed Miliband’s announcements to freeze energy prices and to force landowners to sell or develop vacant land that drew all the headlines last week. These pre-New Labour approaches have set the Labour leader far apart from the Prime Minister’s party in terms of ideas pertaining to business. Whilst the Tories continued to put forward their traditional free market values aimed at stoking economic growth, Labour presented a much more interventionist line. We now have work to do to influence Labour’s thinking over the coming months on minimum pricing and advertising in particular.

Sophie McIntyre


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Hopping down in Kent

On 04/10/13 by David Wilson (Director of Public Affairs)

Sitting in the beautiful early Norman church of St Peter and St Paul in the tranquil village of Ospringe, near Faversham, it felt like we were continuing an ancient tradition of the Blessing of the Hops.

In fact the service is a relatively new innovation by Shepherd Neame to mark the end of a successful hop harvest and to acknowledge the critical role hop growing plays in our British Brewing industry. For the first time this year Shepherd Neame had developed a full day of activities and a hop symposium in their impressive Visitor Centre.

For the young vicar at Ospringe, Reverend Tracey Bateson it was a double first. Her first hop blessing service and her first ever time of presiding at Ospringe since taking on this East Kent Parish on leaving the Army. What she lacked in experience Reverend Bateson more than made up for in enthusiasm.

The readings – from the Shepherd Neame triumverate of Jonathan Neame, Tom Falcon and Head Brewer Richard Frost – were carefully chosen. Eric Blair’s (aka George Orwell) letter to his friend Denis Collings documenting his experiences hop picking in Kent in over 80 years ago transported us back to the glory days of manual harvest when East End hop pickers and travellers descended on Kentish hop gardens in their droves living in spartan surroundings whilst they picked the hops.

Martin Farquar Tupper’s poem ‘Hop Picking’ was followed by a beautifully soulful rendition of Autumn Leaves and a joyful ditty Hopping Down In Kent performed by the talented Helen Burnett to the accomplished guitar playing of Jo Caleb.

The beautiful church was lovingly decorated with hops and the hymns and scripture reading were carefully chosen to amplify the theme of our role as custodians of God’s beauty in creation.
The blessing sung by the small band of dedicated choristers included the apt line;..

‘May He bring you home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown you.’
Those wonders were on full display in the neighbouring hop farm which holds the national hop collection –the next stop for 50 or so beer writers, hop growers and brewers as we were given a guided tour by the enthusiastic Dr Peter Darby. What Peter doesn’t know about British hops is not worth knowing. He guided us through the hop garden with informative anecdotes to illustrate the rich history of hop growing and breeding in Britain with a particular focus on the genesis of Goldings and Fuggles hops.

After sampling Kent’s finest Green Hop Beers and a fantastic lunch we got down to the serious business of the afternoon with a powerful lecture from Tony Redsell illustrated by photographs setting out the important role that East Kent has played in our rich hops heritage, ending with a pleas for us all to value it more. Ramsgate Brewery’s Eddie Gadd inspired us with his evocation of a hop harvest and how he as a brewer got so excited about the Green Hop beers that he created a festival fortnight to use the Green Hop beers to drive tourist traffic to East Kent.

Ali Capper from the British Hops Association shared beautiful images of hops and challenged brewers to celebrate British hops more effectively. I was then able to explain how the Let There Be Beer campaign had evolved to celebrate beer and those occasions where only a beer will do. This day of celebrating hops was definitely one of those occasions. Shepherd Neame should be congratulated for putting together an informative and inspirational day, with plans to make it bigger and better next year with the introduction of a Hop Champion Award.

David Wilson
Director of Public Affairs


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Inconsistent enforcement – the Primary Authority solution

On 03/10/13 by Jim Cathcart (Policy Manager - Pub Operations)

Bad enforcement by police, the licensing authority, fire officers and EHOs can be the bane of a pub operator’s life. Whether this is turning up to check paperwork at 9pm on a Saturday night, or over-zealous officers making licensees jump through multiple hoops with no evidence that there is even a problem at the premises, makes an already challenging job that little bit more difficult. However, now there is a solution to problems such as these that is worth considering in order to bring more consistency and fairness to those on the receiving end of such action.

Of course, there are really good examples out there of local authorities and enforcement agencies seeing their role as helping legitimate businesses prosper by treating them fairly, and targeting inspections on those who are deliberately flouting the law and putting customers and the public at risk. The challenge has always been the inconsistency in approach between these areas of the country, and areas where officers have an ‘us and them’ attitude towards the trade. In the last couple of years a solution has presented itself in the form of Primary Authority relationships – spearheaded by the Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO), part of the Government’s business department.

Primary Authority itself is a simple policy – in essence a business (for example, a managed pub operator with a range of sites across the country) chooses a local authority where it has a good relationship with regulators, say Borsetshire Council. This company has had a problem at some of its sites with over-zealous enforcement of health and safety, so it signs a Primary Authority agreement with Borsetshire and agrees standard risk assessments and inspection plans for its estate. Once this is in place, the next time a local authority anywhere in the country insists one of the company’s pubs must go above and beyond what is reasonably set out in its operating practices, the Primary Authority relationship kicks in and the company does not have to comply with these requirements as it has a pre-agreed system in place with Borsetshire that supersedes the local officials. This company is in effect guaranteed consistent enforcement and inspection practice relating to health and safety across its entire estate, regardless of where the individual pubs are located.

Primary Authority does not apply to all areas of law at present - such as licensing - and there is a cost attached. However, it is constantly developing as trade associations and franchises (which include tenanted pubs) are now in scope. BBPA is working with BRDO to explore the expansion of the scheme.

Primary Authority offers businesses a way to ensure consistent and fair enforcement across the country, and will hopefully develop further. For more information on Primary Authority agreements, which a number of BBPA members have taken forward, visit the BRDO website here.

Jim Cathcart
Policy Manager - Pub Operations


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From Glasgow to Brighton and a few places in between!

On 01/10/13 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

The Liberal Democrats chose to hold their conference in Glasgow this year at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference centre along the river Clyde. If you have not been to Glasgow for a while, it has been transformed, particularly around the river bank and as they prepare to host the Commonwealth Games next year, there is considerable investment in infrastructure. It was, however, a rather a complicated space for the Lib Dems and my abiding memory will be walking miles!

We had some good fringe meetings. Jeremy Browne MP, the Home Office Minister, was pragmatic in his approach to crime and disorder. He talked about the need to ensure Lib Dems did not penalise moderate drinkers and the role of personal responsibility. With Hanover I attended the Lib Dem dinner and had the opportunity to thank Danny Alexander MP, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, for our Budget cut, and urge him for another next year, as well as putting in a bid for the extension of the small business rate relief.

From Glasgow I jetted off to to Dubrovnik in Croatia for the Brewers of Europe meeting. They have just launched a major report on the support for beer in the on-trade throughout Europe. All Secretaries General reported on what was happening in our own particular country. The UK was certainly more positive than many others. Lithuania has a competition commission investigation into a voluntary agreement that they would not brew beers greater than 9.2% abv. Portugal has lost 10 litres per capita since the recession. Italy is looking to increase excise duty and in Spain they are increasing the drinking age from 16 to 18. One can almost work out the economic status of the various countries from their reports! There were many more positive discussions to accompany this, but the narrative was clear.

Next onto Brighton where the Labour Party held it’s conference in sunshine and warmth (weather wise!). Diane Abbott MP (Shadow Minister for Health) was very vocal on minimum pricing. She seems to think that the reason consumption has come down is because there are people in cities who do not drink at all. She claimed that alcohol costs less per unit than Coke in some shops in Hackney. Her views, however, do not seem to be shared by other shadow ministers or to be Labour Party policy. Elaine Hindal the CEO of Drinkaware did very well to handle some hostile questions from the delegates and health professionals present. I had some very good encounters and meetings as did David Wilson and other members of my team.

Finally (for this week at least), I spoke at the Key Issues Forum organised by our Regional Secretary Richard Matthews in the Midlands. It was very well attended, with about 50 members present, and we heard some excellent presentations including Visit Peak District who are very keen to engage with pubs and help with marketing. Arnold Fewell, whose father was company secretary at Truman’s brewery, could not have been more helpful in spelling out how pubs need to adapt to help those with disabilities. He is a contact well worth making. Poppleston Allen spoke on legislation; Suzy Jackson on the Perceptions Group and Cofely GCF-Suez who are environmental consultants completed the line-up.

So this week it is Manchester and two evenings with the Conservatives. BBPA will be publishing our report on the impact of the Budget cut and hopefully will have an opportunity to say “Cheers, George”!

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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Brighton hosts the return of populist politics

On 27/09/13 by Gareth Barrett

This year’s Labour conference has been described as a move from ‘pamphlet Labour’ to ‘leaflet Labour’. The party has made a shift towards providing tangible policy content in the form of readymade statements - easily printed up and thrust through a letter box. The obvious example is the headline grabbing energy policy, the proposed two year price freeze/cap until 2017, which has seen the most reaction from the pundits. That the potential outcomes of this policy have already been so fiercely debated has already fulfilled part of Labour’s media challenge – that the party had no policies. There is certainly disagreement on the practical nature of the deliveries but narrative based on the party’s lack of actual policies may now be harder to maintain.

The Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls MP, offered some of the first headlines of the conference with plans to increase the banking levy and hints that HS2 may be dropped by a future Labour government. Interestingly, there was no mention of a VAT cut – previously one of the only clear Labour policies – with the money from that cut now seemingly set for elsewhere.

Small business rates proposals were expanded on from earlier proposals with a cut and freeze promised for the first two years. The funding of this measure by reversing a corporation tax cut planned for 2015-16 has created controversy – funding discounts for one type of business by taxing another. Proposals for a change in the minimum wage – to make the rate industry specific – received less coverage but could prove to have as great an impact. The early hints were that a new policy on apprenticeships and immigration would headline the policy announcements proved to be false, despite leading advanced press coverage, though the policy was still proposed.

Pledges for one million new homes over the course of the Parliament – and compulsory land purchasing from developers, who are judged to have chosen not to develop – rounded off the key business focused elements.

The conference also saw a real personalisation of the policies by Ed Miliband. The ‘One Nation Labour’ theme was neat, borrowing an effective framing device from conservatives Disraeli and Macmillan. This conference was led with more ‘Do you agree with Ed Miliband?’ and new postcard’s highlight that ‘Ed Miliband will freeze energy prices’ rather than ‘Labour will.’ This change in tactics can be considered an attempt to improve Miliband’s own personal ratings – which are considerably lower than the Labour Party itself – and attempting to define what he actually stands for. It is also worth noting that the focus shifted from ‘Labour will’ to ‘our government will’, with Ed looking to appear as prime ministerial as possible – a distinct change from last year’s attempts to appear casual and relaxed.

Away from policy developments, the conference again hosted a range of celebrity endorsers for the Labour Party, with Ed Miliband’s introduction being voiced by David Tennant, former ‘Eastender’ and Gavin & Stacey star, Larry Lamb and Eddie Izzard appearing on the front row for the leader’s speech and Jason Isaacs voicing Labour’s film on their new energy policy.

All in all, Populism was certainly a theme that rang true throughout the Brighton experience. Only time will tell how this plays in the polls and, in turn, the all important 2015 general election.

Gareth Barrett


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What are Labour's plans on business rates? And what will it mean for pubs?

On 25/09/13

The big policy announcement ahead of Ed Miliband's keynote speech on Tuesday was a 'cut' in business rates for small businesses in 2015, if Labour were to be elected. This would be funded by a reversal in the planned reduction in Corporation Tax for larger businesses. Whilst details remain sketchy the plan seems to be to turn back the increase expected in 2015, effectively maintaining the 2014/15 level for businesses with a rateable value up to £50,000.

At first glance this sounds like a positive measure, who wouldn't want a tax freeze at the moment? About 38,000 pubs in England & Wales have a rateable value of less than £50,000 (although the central Government only sets rates for England).

Business rates are a big issue for pubs and BBPA is currently campaigning to alleviate the cost pressure they place on publicans. A key part of this work is the extension of Small Business Rate Relief (SBRR) to the end of the Parliament, which has been a real benefit to small pubs, adding an extra £1,000 to the bottom line of the average pub.

This is where the Labour leader's plans may unravel. There seems to be no mention of SBRR. About 16,000 pubs currently benefit from a discount of between 50 and 100 per cent. If SBRR is extended until the end of the Parliament then Labour's plans seem to suggest that the publican of one of the smallest pubs could go from paying nothing to a ‘freeze’ that costs them thousands!

Admittedly this is all confused by what a small business is. Ed Miliband says it is up to £50,000; SBRR applies to businesses below £12,000; but there is a separate overall rate for businesses with a rateable value below £18,000. Pubs currently not receiving SBRR, but captured by Labour's rate 'cut', may therefore benefit. An easier solution to help see pubs would be to extend the SBRR threshold.

Businesses across the country have welcomed current plans to cut corporation tax. It rewards growth and makes Britain a more attractive place to do business and invest. Reversing this downward trend in corporation tax will undo much of that good work. It shouldn't be about pitting big against small businesses. In our sector we need both to thrive. Reversing cuts to corporation tax are just likely to lead to a stifling of innovation and reduce the level of support that large businesses offer to the smallest.

It is of course extremely positive that Labour is recognising the burden that business rates place on pubs and other operators, and the BBPA is be more than willing to discuss the principal behind these proposals with the party. At the same time the proposals outlined in Ed Miliband's do not seem to be the most effective way forward and could end up costing some small businesses more.


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Flying the flag for cask ale week

On 20/09/13 by Neil Williams (Head of Media)

There is only a week to go until Cask Ale Week, with pubs and brewers gearing up to ensure the flag is well and truly flown for cask ale.

This year, Cask Ale Week has a great theme – introduce a friend. Around half of drinkers have never tried cask ale before – and nearly half of these think they won’t like it (wrongly, of course!). The campaign wants to encourage new customers to sample the delights of cask ale– and keep coming back for more throughout the year. As well as promotions in pubs, there will be new ales to try and the national launch of the Cask Report. There is also the excellent Cask Finder mobile app – great for tracking down the perfect pint.

At the BBPA we have been promoting the event and encouraging brewers and pubs to get involved – you might have seen the banner on the home page of our website in recent months. To help the team over at Red Flame communications, I went along to the Parcel Yard, the fantastic Fullers pub in the recently refurbished Kings Cross station, to take some pics with publican Nick Cameron (see pic). Fullers is drawing customers in with a promotional beer mat backed up by some great competition prizes.

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The more people and businesses that support Cask Ale Week the better, so visit the website at and get involved in savouring the variety and flavour of our amazing cask ales.

Neil Williams
Head of Media


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Pioneering new sources of expert advice

On 20/09/13 by Richard Matthews (Midlands Secretary)

In an earlier blog I spoke about how industry engagement in initiatives to ease the burden of red tape and regulation was starting to have an impact on the legislative and compliance environment.

Now it seems that local authorities – certainly in many parts of the Midlands – are taking up the challenge by helping industry access their services much more quickly and efficiently.

Talk to Reg developed by the Better Business for All (BBfA) initiative, provides an online resource for all businesses to get expert advice on meeting legislation, providing a single point of contact for regulatory guidance.

The portal features contact details and useful information for organisations responsible for food safety, health and safety, environmental protection, licensing, trading standards and fire safety.

It is part of a new approach that is being led by the Greater Birmingham & Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) and the Better Regulation Delivery Office (BRDO), which focuses on effective regulation being a catalyst for business growth.

The idea was pioneered by Lichfield District Council but now extends across a wide area of the West Midlands. Simply punch in your postcode and contacts for the appropriate departments flash up.

The categories have been designed so they match what a business might be looking to find; for example food safety inspections, building regulations, tax and employment. There’s even a section on business advice.

The early signs are that this facility is being well used by the business community particularly as the service is also available on smartphones.

It answers the long-held criticism from businesses and licensees in particular who say they can waste valuable man hours trying to track down the right contact in the right department.

In another initiative in the same LEP area Cannock Chase District Council has led the way with its Environmental Health Business Support team offering free support to businesses to help in simplifying compliance with regulations and improving areas such as hygiene and health and safety standards.

Instead of inspections, its environmental health team is offering free advice visits, regular updates on new legislation and regular telephone support from a dedicated Business Support Officer.

This can help businesses including pubs improve their food hygiene rating without having to wait for their next routine inspection. What’s more the service is free of charge and does not involve enforcement action.

Other authorities have shown interest in a similar scheme and now Birmingham City Council is set to take it up.

Initiatives such as this can only help the relationship between the regulators and businesses and the BBfA scheme, currently being trailed with the GBSLEP and the Leicester and Leicestershire Enterprise Partnership before being rolled out to other LEPs, can take much of the credit for providing the umbrella for this to be achieved.

Richard Matthews
Midlands Secretary


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