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Tackling the business rates burden on pubs

On 26/02/16

Ahead of Budget 2016, the BBPA has been working night and day to persuade the Chancellor to cut duty on beer, the core product of the great British pub, the drink that makes up seven in ten sales.

However, there are a range of other taxes that affect pubs, from business rates to employment and energy tax, where we work hard for a fairer burden on our sector.

Beyond beer duty, business rates are a very high priority

Business rates in their current form are hugely unfair to pubs. Analysis from the BBPA shows that pubs pay 2.8 per cent of business rates but generate around 0.5 per cent of business turnover. This equates to an overpayment of £500 million, relative to turnover, for the sector, as we pointed out in our response to the Government's review of business rates in the summer of 2015.

The iniquity of the system was further laid bare in a recent analysis of the tax burden on the pub commissioned by BBPA from Oxford Economics. This showed that pubs were the second highest taxed, per pound of turnover, out of 69 sectors surveyed.

There are a number of reasons for this discrepancy - many sectors receive major discounts, such as agriculture and charities - but the main reason is that pubs are not very ‘property efficient’ compared to shops, for example. There is no reason why they should be; pubs provide a valuable community service, they allow people to come and enjoy their amenities for a relatively low cost; the price of a pint.

Business rates are a major cost for pubs and therefore a major concern for the BBPA. So what are we doing about it? There are a number of areas where we have been focused on reducing this burden, broadly broken down into review and reform, revaluation and final bills & reliefs.

Review and reform

The Government announced in the Autumn Statement 2014 that there would be a fundamental review into how business rates operate in the UK. At their simplest level, business rates are a tax on the annual rental value of a property, using a five-yearly assessment of that rental value. This basis of taxation has to apply across all business types regardless of the model under which they operate.

The review looked at a number of issues concerning how business rates operate. Issues that received the most attention were the lengthy intervals between revaluations and the underlying basis of rates.

The first point had been exacerbated by a Government decision to extend the time between revaluations from five to seven years, meaning property valuations had become out of sync with current economic conditions (2008 compared with 2015).

The BBPA considered that more frequent revaluations could have some benefits but also added uncertainty. A sudden upturn in trading conditions could lead to a sharp annual increase in your rates bill. Whilst being sympathetic to a shortened revaluation period, we did not believe this would be a fundamental improvement.

The second area was more fundamental. How do you levy a business tax that applies across all sectors?

The British Retail Consortium undertook a major piece of research which looked at four different mechanisms for changing business rates in its Road to Reform report. These included moving to a different basis, such as an energy tax; providing a discount on employment; rewarding successful businesses through corporation tax reform; or modernising the current system.

The BBPA examined all of these options. We felt that a modernisation of the current system was preferable, as the others presented greater risks to the sector. However we were very clear in our response that taxing businesses on property remained unfair to businesses such as pubs and therefore a system of reliefs was necessary to alleviate this burden.

The research that the BBPA carried out into how unfairly pubs are treated under the current rates regime is a landmark for the sector. It ensures that the pub sector has substantial evidence to support our case for reducing the burden of business rates.

As part of wider reforms the Government has already announced plans to devolve rate-setting power to local authorities. At the Conservative party conference local authorities were told they would be able to reduce business rates to stimulate growth. It was also announced that areas with a directly elected mayor could increase rates by up to 2p in the pound with the support of the business community for infrastructure projects. We await further details, but there needs to be clear support for existing businesses, including through existing reliefs.

The process for appealing business rates is also under review and is an area where the BBPA has been leading calls for change. The current appeals process causes huge delays to businesses making representations for changes to their rates. The BBPA has informed the Government's response through the consultation process and is confident that the new regime will be move favourable to publicans, when compared with the current unsatisfactory system. The review is due to publish its findings in Budget 2016.


Business rates bills are based on the rateable value (RV) of a property. This is an estimate of the annual cost of renting that property. This is calculated in different ways by the Valuation Office Agency (VOA) and its devolved counterparts. These were last set in April 2010, based on the rental value at April 2008. Essentially, every rates bill is dependent on how much it cost the business to rent the building they operate from in April 2008.

The latest revaluation of business property is currently underway. This will set a new RV from April 2017, based upon the rental value as at April 2015. This will have a major impact on the rates bills of pubs across the country. The BBPA has had a constructive dialogue with the VOA, with expert analysis and input from surveyors with an in-depth knowledge of the pub industry to help ensure a new basis for rateable values that better reflects the pub landscape of 2015 than of 2008.

Importantly, this will deliver much lower rateable values than the VOA had originally been looking at. This should be a positive first step from 1st April 2017 with pubs receiving more favourable RVs than would have been the case - by as much as 15 per cent on some calculations. The devil will of course be in the detail, but we feel this is a great result that works well for ratepayers.

New RVs are expected to be made available online on 1st October 2016 (and not sent by post as in previous years). They should give an indication of what the rates bill for the next five years will be.

Final bills and reliefs

The two issues of rates and reliefs relate to future work, although neither is too far off.

The final business rates bill is a combination of the RV, the multiplier (the announced tax rate per pound of RV) and any reliefs available.

The BBPA has led and coordinated the campaign on these critical elements on behalf of the pub sector and its wider supply chain, under the banner of Better Rates for Pubs.

Over the last few years the Better Rates for Pubs campaign has highlighted the burden that business rates place on pubs and proposed measures to lighten the load.

This has seen some real success, with a cap on the overall multiplier, extensions to Small Business Rate Relief (SBBR) and the introduction of Retail Relief. The latter two were targeted measures that have removed cost from the bottom line of struggling pub businesses. These have been achieved by working in partnership with others in the retail sector.

In the latest campaign, ahead of the Autumn Statement 2015, there was mixed success as Government tightened its belt. SBRR was extended for a further year but Retail Relief was discontinued. The overall rate was increased by inflation, which fortunately was at a very low level.

This loss of Retail Relief was hard to bear. It was a highly targeted measure that supported pubs and other businesses that were disadvantaged by the current regime. At the time, our Chief Executive Brigid Simmonds commented that this was “effectively a £1,500 tax increase for the majority of pubs,” adding £46 million to pubs’ rates bills. In its submission to Treasury ahead of Budget 2016 the BBPA has called for Retail Relief to be reinstated, at least until the revaluation in 2017.

What does the future hold?

These are uncertain times for those that pay business rates, and particularly those that are unfairly burdened, as pubs undoubtedly are. Pubs need to be aware of:

• The anticipated loss of Retail Relief from April 2016.
• The revaluation from 1st April 2017 - it will cause upheaval and will mean higher costs for some, particularly those that have thrived
• The impact of devolution on rates - this will come from April 2017 in Wales and before 2020 in England - and could lead to higher rates where there is a devolved Mayor
• Potential abolition of national reliefs, such as Small Business Rate Relief

The BBPA believes the current business rates regime is profoundly unfair to pubs and will continue to fight for a better deal for British pubs in all of these areas. We have made representations to the Chancellor and his colleagues ahead of the forthcoming Budget, and will be campaigning hard to make sure the rates system does not undermine the great British pub sector and the 32 million who visit pubs each year.


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Catching up with KingstonFirst business improvement district

On 23/02/16 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

KingstonFirst (in Kingston upon Thames), was the first Business Improvement District, set up in 2004. It now has 750 members who occupy 940 properties and pay a 1 per cent levy based on business rates. This raises about £800,000 for the BID and at the last vote, 81 per cent of businesses voted to support it.

Its main objective in its first two terms was to create a safe, clean and animated town centre which was well promoted and to drive down operational costs for its members, For the last six years, Kingstonfirst has delivered a number of services on behalf of the Local authority. Now, at a time when funding for local authorities is reducing and many are sharing services with other local authorities in areas such as human resources, waste management and social care, there is real scope for BIDs to add even more value.

Now in its third term, it’s taking a more innovative and commercial approach to shaping the town centre via even greater collaboration with more partners. Through combined buying power, KingstonFirst offers its members enormous savings on key business services, including utilities and waste management, providing a direct financial return on their levy investment.

But it is now looking beyond its core area to offer the same services to non-BID members at a charge – the more businesses in the buying group, the greater the savings.

They are also looking at how they can bring property owners, facilities management and investors together to market the right sites in Kingston and achieve the right mix. Using technology they can they track how and what shops customers are visiting and in time may help to market a particular site for a specific type of shop. They would be able to demonstrate demand for a particular type of retail store.
Kingstonfirst sees itself as the custodian of the town, the voice of business, a critical decision maker, a driving force and a credible contributor to the success of the town It is in no doubt about the importance of its relationship with the Council which it considers a critical partner.

Kingston has worked with its local university, with Telefonica which is based locally, and a range of other partners to consider how to attract more visitors to Kingston. Digital marketing is part of its mix. In 2014, it won the London category of the Great British High Streets competition for its innovation around the market square and the integration of the market with other retail outlets and range of historic buildings.

You would probably not think of Kingston upon Thames as a market town, but its daily market, with around 30 stalls, has an estimated annual turnover of £1.3m. It has popular night markets and visiting markets too, with the end of year highlight being its Christmas Market -vital ingredients in the recipe of this flourishing town centre.
Its evening (anything after 5pm) and night-time economy is thriving and is hugely important to their mix. It runs events, from dance festivals to street activated music, has an active Pubwatch, runs Best Bar None and support its street pastors.

It was quite interesting the other day listening to Deltic talking about their venue in Kingston being one for special occasions; their customers visit infrequently – once every two or three months. KingstonFirst is well aware that reputation is important. It works closely with its pubs, bars and nightclubs, recognises the need to provide for all ages and interests and wants to create a thriving town centre which all can enjoy.

As ever, local leadership is important and this is where the Great British High Streets Pledge works so well. National and local companies encouraging their managers to become involved in local high streets, to participate in the work of BIDs, town teams, and local partnerships. Both Business in the Community and British BIDs have shown that individual retail outlets benefit in terms of footfall and income through successful high streets.

Rather obvious you might think, so all a good reason to make contact with me and sign the pledge. All I need is a letter from you agreeing to support the pledge; “I pledge to use the leadership expertise, skills and resources of my business to help UK high streets achieve their full potential”.

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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Budget 2016 - the pub under pressure

On 19/02/16 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

As we move towards the Budget on 16th March, the BBPA team is very focused on our campaign for a cut in beer duty in the Budget, and my colleague Andy Tighe, has written about how much this benefits pubs.
Yet with such a large tax burden facing pubs, there are also many other reasons why the sector really needs another duty cut.

At the end of last year, the BBPA commissioned Oxford Economics to look at the total and average tax contribution of a British Pub. It concluded that over a third of pub costs go in tax, or on average £140,000 for every pub.

This makes for a grand total of £7.3 billion, as the pub sector total tax burden. In comparison with other sectors, the pub’s tax burden was the 26th largest, despite being only the 41st largest in terms of turnover.

Despite this big burden, we are facing a perfect storm, in terms of new business costs. We estimate that the introduction of the National Living Wage will cost the pub sector £35 million in 2016/17. We want to pay our staff more but it will be a challenge, particularly for small businesses, to achieve the productivity increases to cover these costs.

The Apprenticeship Levy will cost companies several million pounds in additional costs. New auto enrolment pensions will this year result in £34 million of new costs, with the abolition of retail relief adding a further £46 million.

The Apprenticeship Levy will cost companies several million pounds in additional costs. New auto enrolment pensions will this year result in £34 million of new costs, with the abolition of retail relief adding a further £46 million. The latter is a big financial blow, adding up to £1,500 to the bill of a community pub.

Overall, the BBPA estimates that new cost and tax pressures are the equivalent of a 3.4 per cent increase in beer duty, or an additional 1.6p per pint – enough reason on its own, to justify a beer duty cut in the Budget.

So, what are we asking for to help pubs deal with these new challenges? Alongside a penny off beer duty, we are asking for a review of the stakes and prizes for Category C gaming machines. We are asking the Government to look again at VAT for the hospitality sector. We are looking to the review of Business Rates to bring more companies into the scope of paying this tax and the reinstatement of Retail Relief, or reducing the burden on pubs which after all cannot be ‘virtual’! Whilst we support the abolition of the Carbon Reduction Commitment and simplification, we are concerned that the Climate Change Levy should not place too high a tax on small businesses like pubs.

With many pressures ahead, at the end of the day, we believe that a further cut for beer duty in the Budget 2016 is the most targeted and effective way to support the Great British pub but will continue to push Government for greater support on all of these issues.

There is still time to join our campaign; just visit and email your support to your local MP.

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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Street Pastors

On 17/02/16 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

In a quiet country pub just after it opened at 11am on a Friday (Harvey’s, the Dorset in Lewes), I met Brian Arnott who leads on partnership development for the Ascension Trust who look after the growing number of Street Pastor schemes.

The Ascension Trust was formed in 1993 by a church leader in London as he sought to provide churches with the tools for participation in a 21st century society. It is now the governing body for eight church-led initiatives; the most well-known of which is street pastors. Street pastors now exist in 280 different places all over the UK. If you want to search and find one in a particular town or city, you can use this link or the Ascension Trust website.

To be a street pastor, you have to be recommended by your local church (of any denomination), undertake eight days of training spread over a number of weeks, and have a CRB check (Disclosure & Baring Service). You also have to pay a one off fee of £300 for your training.

Funding comes from a range of sources; charities like the Jerusalem Trust (owned by Sainsbury’s), local authorities, police and of course local churches.

Why are Street Pastors of interest to us? Without doubt much of the emphasis on alcohol has moved away from the Department of Health and over to the Home Office which is working on a Modern Crime Prevention Strategy to be launched in March. In a chapter on alcohol, there is likely to be mention of ‘safe areas’ as alternatives to taking people who have drunk too much to A&E. There are currently 19 safe areas operating across the UK and three are funded by street pastors. Whilst alcohol consumption has fallen 19% since 2004, there is a still a perception of problems in our towns and city centres.

The BBPA and our members support a range of partnership schemes from Best Bar None to Business Improvement Districts and Pubwatch. We perhaps need to start adding street pastors to that list and here are a few ideas which Brian and I discussed on how individual companies can help:

  • Make sure your local pubs know about a local street pastor scheme and make them welcome
  • Consider offering a room in one of your pubs for street pastor training
  • Where there is a local street pastor scheme, make sure you know how to get in touch, and if you need support, give them a call. They are all linked by mobile phone when out and about, and you can find the number on their site
  • Consider advertising support for street pastors on your website (possible poster to be considered)
  • Provide local funding

I think we have all been impressed with the work of street pastors and they are currently working out how much they save the public purse through their patrols, and the advice and help they offer. The police in Ealing believe that crime and assault cases go down 50% when they are on patrol and in Cullompton, Devon, local police highlighted a 14.3% reduction in crime after a year of a local scheme.

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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Do beer duty cuts really help pubs?

On 15/02/16 by Andy Tighe (Policy Director)

With our campaign for another cut in beer duty now in full swing, it is great to be getting so much support across the trade, especially from pubs, which are receiving around 100,000 of our campaign posters and beer mats.

However, amidst all this support, we still see comments suggesting that ‘token’ one penny duty cuts don’t really help pubs; that brewers are putting up prices anyway, that it is supermarkets which benefit most – and the Government should focus on other tax reductions that would help pubs, such as business rates.

In total, 3.7 billion pints were sold in pubs and the wider on-trade, last year. That’s a lot of pennies - £37 million worth, in fact. If you add this up over the last three years and consider the increases that had been planned, that is a 10 pence per pint difference, or a £370 million per annum saving. We estimate that the effect on the price of a pint is around double this, when it comes to prices over the bar.

These are big numbers that have supported very significant additional investment in pubs since 2013, generating even greater returns. The Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) estimates that 1,000 more pubs would have closed without this change in beer duty policy.

Of course, other costs in the industry can create inflationary pressures. However, Office of National Statistics inflation data shows that ex-factory gate prices for beer have fallen since Budget 2013 and price increases in pubs have been at their lowest since the 1980s, at just over 1% last year. This clearly demonstrates that the benefits of duty cuts are being passed on.

Supermarkets undoubtedly benefit from lower beer duty rates, but as we have seen over the last decade or so, pricing in supermarkets bears little correlation to beer duty changes. Between 2002 and 2013, beer duty went up 64%. Over this time, beer prices in pubs went up 48%, but prices in supermarkets went up just 8%.

After the beer duty cuts in 2013 and 2014, prices in supermarkets remained almost flat, but since June 2014, prices have fallen again, due to very aggressive pricing across all food and drink products as established supermarkets have responded to the growing threat from the discounters.

The key point is that if you are running a wet-led pub, with half of turnover coming from beer sales, a duty cut is more important to you than to a supermarket, where beer is just a small percentage of your total sales.

Of course, action on business rates and other taxes is also vital to reduce the huge overall tax burden pubs still face, and which accounts for almost £1 in every three spent in the pub. However these are also taxes borne by most other sectors and hence come with a much bigger price tag for the Treasury and are thus longer term objectives.

On a final note and perhaps most importantly of all, polling continues to show pub goers and the public in general are hugely supportive of lower beer taxes to keep a visit to the pub affordable and ultimately it is their view that matters most.

Andy Tighe
Policy Director


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Parliamentary Pub Chef of the Year Competition 2016

On 28/01/16 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

When the BBPA first approached Andrew Griffiths MP and the Parliamentary Beer Group to run a Parliamentary Pub Chef of the Year competition, we estimated that we might receive 30 nominations from MPs. 127 nominations later, from 108 MPs suggests that not only are pubs at the heart of local constituencies, but that great pub food is valued across the UK. With the support of Nestlé, who not only are interested in good coffee in pubs, but supply so many useful ingredients in the kitchen, the judges, ably coordinated by Josh Green in my team and Martyn Webster from Nestlé whittled down the 127 to a shortlist of eight for the final cook-off; four Young Chefs of the Year (aged 30 and under) and four Pub Chefs of the Year!

With huge help from Fullers who allowed our chefs to ‘cook-off’ at the Vintry pub in the City of London – one of the few pubs big enough to have four separate cooking stations and who were very generous in not only time, but the provision of some very fine, fresh ingredients, we were ready for the main event which took place on Tuesday afternoon. The judges, chefs, Paul Merrett (of Saturday Kitchen and three pubs in West London), Ashley McCarthy who runs Ye Olde Sun Inn in Colton, near York (one of the best pubs I have eaten in), Paul Dickenson (Head of Food at Fullers), Andre Prokes (who works with Nestlé), Andrew Griffiths MP and myself has the unenviable task of choosing the winner in each category. All the chefs were given a list of ingredients which would be available the day before; they had 15 minutes of preparation and then an hour to cook and plate four portions of a main course.

We began by watching the Young Chefs, who during the course of the afternoon came and sat down with the judges for a chat. Edward Hackland is head chef at the Wagon in Halam in Nottinghamshire. He serves 400 to 500 covers a week with three of them, in what he described as a very small kitchen. He grew up with a single mother and three brothers, so learnt to cook at home, but started his training at the age of 15. He is also passionate about gardening, grows much of his own food and makes all his own bread. For the competition he chose brill. Gordon Stott who is head chef at the Sun Inn in Dummer (just outside Basingstoke) at 20 became both a landlord and head chef. He looks after a team of 8 who can cook parties of up to 120 people, although the pub restaurant has only 44 covers. He is particularly passionate about teaching young people – he is the oldest in his team at now 26! He too chose to cook brill. Matt Long is head chef at the Raglan Arms, in Llandenny, Wales. His experience has included cooking for a Formula One team, travelling around the world. He is keen to train young people; his team include three young lads from the local Job Centre. He chose to cook guinea fowl. Finally in this category was Robert Yuill, who is responsible for three properties in Dundee, Scotland. He began his career in an Asda Bakery and has worked at the Gleneagles hotel and is now head chef at D’Arcy Thompson. He serves not only lunch and dinner, but afternoon tea and his fruit and vegetables, meat and fish are locally sourced. His passion is sustainability and a showcase of the Scottish larder. He chose to cook venison.

In the Pub Chef competition, we started with John Calton who runs Staith House in North Shields – he smokes his own fish and game and has started a journey into charcuterie, curing hams, salami and chorizo to broaden their offering. Local fish is their speciality, as well as aged beef and lamb. He chose to cook brill. Gordon Jones is the head chef at The Brit Pub in Port Talbot. His father was a fisherman and hunter, so seasonal produce is his passion, although he admitted to having to work hard on local people to be a little more adventurous in what they order! He also cooked brill. Michele Cremona (our only female chef) is totally self-taught. She is particularly passionate about vegetables and often makes them the main attraction in her dishes. She runs a pub through Laines Pub Company and is particularly interested in slow cooking and has a “herb hospital” in the pub. She cooked venison liver. Finally in this category we had Milan Hukal who originally hails from the Czech Republic, but has been in England for 13 years and is the head chef at the Dog Inn in Grundisburgh with five full time staff. They have their own smoker, herb garden, source a lot produce from their village and serve 300 to 400 covers a week.

I will not tell you who won, because we have wait for the result to be announced in the House of Commons on 23rd February. Suffice to say, the food was delicious, the standard high and just showed the skills which now exist to produce such fantastic food in our pubs. No wonder visiting a Great British Pub is third on the list of things to do for international visitors and four out of ten visit a pub whilst they are here! There is much we can all do with local colleges and schools to raise the profile of a working and cooking in a pub, but this short of showcase is a very good start.

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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How to keep your alcohol advertising on the right side of the regulator

On 04/12/15 by Craig Jones (Director of Communications, Advertising Standards Authority)

The advertising of alcohol products is subject to stringent rules and regulations – mainly to protect children and young people from exposure and to ensure that alcohol is enjoyed responsibly.

Here at the CAP, we have responded to the demand from advertisers for greater claret-ty of what’s hop and what’s not when it comes to responsible advertising of alcoholic products. A new pint-size online training course is now available which provides an in-depth understanding of advertising rules and how to apply them.

By developing this, we’re making sure advertisers will be raising the bar when it comes to responsible promotion. This is the only training which uses real ASA rulings. The menu includes:

  • An introduction to alcohol advertising – providing an overview of the regulation and why the rules for advertising alcohol are strict
  • A comprehensive understanding of the rules by using real cases where the ASA has upheld and not upheld rulings
  • How to create responsible advertisements by learning about the common mistakes made and how to avoid them; and
  • Exercises which put learning into practice

After completing the course you won’t be blurry-eyed, rather your sprits will be raised by having an excellent understanding of how to avoid an advert hangover.

Each round costs £75 (inc. VAT), with discounted business licenses available for 10 or more users from the same organisation. Visit for more information and to enjoy your free taster.

BBPA members receive a 15% discount when they purchase e-learning. Please contact BBPA for the discount code.

Craig Jones
Director of Communications, Advertising Standards Authority


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A BBPA visit to Wychwood brewery

On 02/12/15 by Brigid Simmonds (Chief Executive)

Every year, BBPA takes our team on a visit to a member company. This year we decided to go to Wychwood, famous perhaps in our most recent history for the important part it played in raising 100,000 signatories to encourage the Government to allow a debate on the beer duty escalator back in 2012. Hobgoblin was the brand which started the petition, led very much by Chris Keating who heads up their marketing and who went onto win the first Chairman’s Award at the BBPA Annual Dinner back in 2012.

Wychwood is of course owned by Marston’s, but the original brewery dates back to 1843 when it was owned by Clinch & Co. It has been through a variety of owners since then, but the modern brewery which exists today dates back to 1983. Not only is Wychwood the home of Hobgoblin, but it also brews Brakspear, which moved to Wychwood when the brewery in Henley closed in 2002. The closure of the Brakspear brewery led to the transfer of the original Brakspear Copper, dating from 1779, to the site in Whitney which was followed by the transfer of the famous Brakspear ‘Double Drop’ fermentation vessels which are still used to brew Brakspear Bitter and Brakspear Triple.

The site itself is constrained by residential housing. As a result the team at Wychwood rely on the facilities at Marston’s brewery in Burton upon Trent to help ensure that beer brewed at Wychwood reaches their loyal fans and consumers.

A fascinating and interesting visit for our team, followed by lunch at the Blue Boar owned by Oakman Inns. A great example of a modern pub, great food, good service and whilst we did not stay there, rooms available too!

Thank you to Chris, Jeff Drew and Luke for looking after us all so well.

Brigid Simmonds
Chief Executive


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The end of Boozy Britain?

On 20/11/15 by Daisy Blench (Policy Manager - Responsibility)

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a debate as part of the Institute of Ideas, ‘Battle of Ideas’ festival held at the Barbican, a two day series of lively debates and conversations aiming to ‘encourage free thinking and open-ended public discussion’.

The debate’s title was ‘The end of Boozy Britain?’ and amongst other things the ‘teasers’ for the session asked us; ‘is the decline of drinking really something to be celebrated?’

I would say not, if we are talking about overall alcohol consumption – more people drinking overall does not necessarily equate to higher levels of harm if people are drinking sensibly.

Although per capita alcohol consumption has declined by around 19% since 2004, it is perfectly possible for this to go up, alongside declining levels of alcohol related harm.

This got me thinking – so often is overall alcohol consumption used a proxy for alcohol related harm in the media (and sometimes even by industry) that we sometimes lose sight of the moderate majority to whom drinking is a normal and pleasurable part of their lives.

Take the sector that myself and many others work in. Beer and pubs are a hugely important aspect of people’s lives, of local communities and of the economy and they provide something unique which we should be hugely proud of here in the UK which many from abroad want to experience.

It seems like a cliché but many life events happen in pubs - people meet partners, celebrate birthdays, wedding and christenings, share a drink or dinner and chat with friends. Working here in the City of London, and seeing people working long hours, often with little chance for a break and often in demanding jobs, my favourite bit of the day is always relaxing in one of the great pubs around here after work and seeing some of those same people unwinding, chatting and bonding with friends and colleagues over a drink.

And of course, people can choose whether or not to drink alcohol in the pub. There are now more lower-alcohol and non-alcohol drinks choices than ever before. However, alcohol for many of us is a part of socialising and relaxing. Certain recent attempts to ‘denormalise’ alcohol seem to be part of a move to get rid of anything which can potentially be misused from our lives and I believe that ultimately we will be worse off for it.

If this is my ‘ode to one of the simple pleasures in life, then alongside appreciating the social benefits of moderate consumption for the vast majority we should be equally clear on the need to focus on the harms that alcohol can cause.

As mentioned, it's hugely important to draw a clear distinction between alcohol consumption and misuse which allows a much sharper focus on the problems that remain. And of course alcohol harm is in no one’s interests, least of all those that brew beer and run pubs, and therefore the decline in recent years of a number of alcohol 'harms' is good news for all of us.

With an annual tax bill of £13 billion, the beer and pub sector more than pays the costs associated with managing the minority that go beyond pleasurable enjoyment of alcohol as well as contributing economically and socially in many ways.

Brewers and pubs also have a strong track record of involvement in alcohol responsibility initiatives from launching the Challenge 21 age verification campaign, which has contributed to a huge culture change in the acceptability of underage drinking, to ensuring that the vast majority of beer products on the market have health messaging on the label, to increasing the range of lower-strength beers available to encourage a responsible drinking culture.

However, I would stress the word encourage. Sadly there will always be those that seriously misuse alcohol to the detriment of their own health and others. However, ultimately treating people like adults is crucial. Let's not treat those who do like to have a pint or two after work as though they are doing something wrong. Whilst providing people with enough information is important, ultimately they should be free to make their own choices about whether or not to drink.

The recent coverage and debate over the Chief Medical Officer's review of the lower-risk drinking guidelines and the potential that these will be lowered has raised the question of how consumers would respond to any changes in the advice. Ultimately it will be important that any change in the advice is evidence based and clearly communicated to consumers to ensure that the advice remains useful and relevant.

The debate gets so polarised sometimes that things can get out of perspective. Refreshingly, this event, although involving a lively discussion about the importance and relevance of pubs and problems relating to excessive drinking, was more nuanced. There seemed to be some agreement that now the ‘moral panic’ around alcohol has dissipated somewhat, we can begin to have more grown-up discussion about how to target harm and the reasons why people misuse alcohol.

It would be great to see this consensus translated into sensible policy making both nationally and locally and allowing us to retain the enjoyment of alcohol and of our great British pubs for the majority but take a clear and targeted approach to tackling alcohol harm where it occurs.

Daisy Blench
Policy Manager - Responsibility


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