Earlier this week, the so-called Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) launched its campaign against further rises in beer duty. This part of the taxation system was held to be behind the closure of thousands of pubs in recent years, but as I pointed out, this ignored the malign presence of the PubCos. Now the Maily Telegraph has undermined the TPA yet further.
“Drinks industry toasts local beer success” proclaims the headline of Angela Monaghan’s article. Success? But the TPA was telling of decline. How can this be? Check out the sub-heading: “Britain's independent brewers have given the drinks industry some news to raise a glass to after bucking the consumer downturn to unveil rising sales and employment numbers”.
So what’s the actual deal? Well, taken overall, beer sales have fallen, and continue to do so. But most sales volume is down to the big brewers, who major in what is termed brewery conditioned beer, this being keg and nitro-keg in pubs and clubs, and mainly cans in the off-licence and supermarket trade. This type of beer is the one in serious decline.
The beer type not in serious decline is that which is cask conditioned, or bottle conditioned: what has become known as Real Ale. And, as the Tel piece notes, much of the resurgence of the small brewers who major in this kind of product can be attributed to the Small Breweries’ Relief, a tax break introduced in 2002 by then Chancellor Gordon Brown.
This in turn encouraged aspiring brewers to enter the market, and so there are now literally hundreds of microbreweries across the UK, all producing their own range of beer styles. And, unlike the big brewers in the past, no small brewer would think of just offering its customers only two or three draught beers. All this benefits pubs that are free from the dead hand of the PubCo.
Sadly, though, those pubs owned by PubCos cannot, in the main, take any advantage from the rise of the microbreweries, and so they do not benefit. This the TPA will not dwell on: their sole motivation is to undermine Government and public service. So they continue to pretend beer duty is the only problem faced by the industry, when it has at best a walk-on part.
Where the TPA could make itself useful – but will not – would be in opening up the pub trade to genuine competition. Instead, Matthew Sinclair and his fellow non-job holders will continue their pretence over beer duty, while PubCos flog off their estates to property developers, and microbreweries keep on delivering what beer drinkers really want.
And when the Telegraph undermines libertarian groups, that’s game over.