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Chairman Jonathan Neame's speech at the BBPA Annual Dinner - full text


BBPA Chairman Jonathan Neame of Shepherd Neame, spoke at the BBPA Annual Dinner and Awards in London last night. The full text of his speech is as follows:

A year is a long time in beer and pubs....and a Parliament is a lifetime, but now we can look back on one of the more supportive Parliaments to our sector in modern times.

If we measure success by commercial freedom to invest with confidence and a fiscal environment that encourages growth,.....then we can reflect on considerable achievements in the last 5 years, thanks largely to cross party support that listened to a unified voice, understood the needs of the sector and wanted it to succeed:

  • three duty cuts
  • NI relief
  • rural rate relief and further review Business rates shake up
  • no fiscal marks
  • even the anti alcohol campaigners now have a more balanced and considered view towards beer and pubs.... name but few.

We can also celebrate that the perception of beer and pubs in the eyes of the consumer has probably not been higher for generation

  • so diverse in taste and flavour that saisons and cherry stouts are now serious propositions.
  • pubs are back at the heart of many communities as they are re-positioned to cater for a wider audience
  • barely a day goes by without a new food concept being launched or new great chef being celebrated

But we still have some way to go to re-ignite the nation’s love of beer.

Well done to the There’s a Beer for That for celebrating the diversity of beer and for recognising the timeless importance of beer with the Beer Day Britain initiative on the back of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.

However, in other areas, such as pub company reform, Parliament has chosen to intervene in those commercial freedoms, perhaps precisely because the industry was fragmented and did not give a single coherent view of the state of the market. Time will tell who will be the winners and losers.

For those of us who work in the sector, it seems inconceivable to imagine a market that is more dynamic, more innovative and or exhilarating....or of course more competitive, with tough commercial challenges for large and small alike to face up to, but the cumulative impacts of our efforts provide increasingly positive outcomes for society

  • Employment in hospitality has grown by 9% or 151k jobs
  • Brewery numbers have grown to 1700
  • Pub numbers now stabilising, with the fall at a lower rate (by 2.6% to 53000) and, importantly, 5.9% growth in food led pubs, as lifestyles continue to change.

Thus statutory intervention of any type at any time is unwelcome and for the time being, we can probably hope and expect this Parliament to be business friendly.

But this does not mean an opportunity for resting on our laurels :

  • for a start there are 177 new MPs, a quarter of the house, to inform
  • then, the alternative voices for government, north and south of the border, are pushing a much more anti-business agenda
  • and, of course, the country's economic challenges have not gone away.

Thus, in my mind, we have a golden opportunity
- to create a new positive narrative of how the sector is modernising and growing
- to put consumers, licensees and communities at the heart of what we do

  • to build our reputation as landlords

  • to create the environment where large company and small independent operator can co-exist and thrive

And, if we do not take this opportunity
- or,....worse,....if we revert to type as a fragmented, divided industry more interested in petty internal squabbles and a negative stance on social policy issues....

.....then we will be easy pickings for any future government looking to raise revenue or curb commercial freedoms.

This is the moment to up our game, and reinforce our vital role in stimulating jobs and investment.

And so when it comes to issues such as the National Living Wage, we need to be careful how we respond. We need to recognise that if the key theme of the last Parliament was volume of jobs, particularly young person’s jobs, then the key theme of this is

  • quality of jobs,
  • levels of skill in the workforce,
  • pay rates and productivity.

Therefore, in my view, we need to confront this as a reality and convert this into an opportunity to re-evaluate the vital role our staff play and value the people in our industry, so that, in the medium term, we can

  • shed the image of this being low paid, low aspiration sector
  • create more structured career paths for our pubs with training and staff engagement
  • attract great staff from other parts of the retail and hospitality sector

If we do not move with the times then we will start to look again like the same outdated industry with old fashioned ideas as we did 10 years ago.

This and last week’s announcement on Business Rates will present cost challenges for the sector. Therefore, let us argue strongly for alternative fiscal stimulus to ease the transition,.... for further duty cuts, for NI relief, for lower VAT.

This is the context in which my successor David Forde of Heineken takes over as Chairman in December. I have no doubt that he will be a great and passionate advocate for all that is excellent in our industry and will continue to push the agenda for beer and pubs. Can I thank all members and stakeholders for your contribution to the recent survey. This has produced very useful feedback and insight, and has provided the team with a clear set of objectives to deliver on.

David inherits one of the strongest teams and a formidable CEO in Brigid, all of whom I have greatly enjoyed working with in the last few years. I hope you will join me in passing on heartfelt thanks to them for their efforts and achievements during the last year.

Thank you and enjoy the evening.


For further information contact:

Neil Williams
Head of Media
Tel: 020 7627 9156 / 07974 249 779

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