The mostly widely discussed topic in the British beer world in recent times is the Beer Duty Escalator (BDE), a treasury policy which increases the duty on beer by inflation + 2% every March budget.  This was introduced in 2008 by the then Labour government and is expected to be in place until the 2014/15 fiscal period at a minimum.  The net effect of this policy is that the duty on beer has risen by over 40% since its inception.  Taking into account VAT, over a third of the cost of a pint is taken in taxation by the Government now.

A “Stop the Beer Duty Escalator” e-petition was started by the owners of Wychwood Brewery (part of the Marstons empire) in February this year and reached the required 100,000 signatures to trigger a debate in the House of Commons towards the end of September this year.  This debate took place on the 1st November.  The debate was introduced by Conservative MP Andrew Griffiths who chairs the All Party Parliamentary Beer Committee.  There was good support for the Backbench debate and calls from across all political parties to scrap the duty escalator.

Despite all this campaigning and debate, the government response is merely to “keep it under review”, with them saying they can’t afford to lose the revenue generated which is estimated at £35 million next year and £70 million the following year.  In the UK in 2011/12, £467 billion of tax was collected in total, the tax taken from the escalator is the equivalent of 15 thousandths of one percent of the total UK tax take at most.   I think most of us could find a way to save that amount somewhere in the government spending plans given the information and the power to do so.

I’ve held off writing about this campaign until now as it has been extensively covered in Pubpaper, the media at all levels and online via the beer writing community, but now the process has drawn to a close, or at least this phase has and we can look back at its effectiveness.  To get this far with the first phase which was the e-petition, popular opinion needed to be mobilised to get the required 100,000 signatures. CAMRA was rather slow off the mark in endorsing the campaign, not coming on board officially until after the 2012 Budget statement in March, it may have been only a month, but they should have been seen as leading the campaign from the start.

The saveyourpint.co.uk website went live at the end of the March which became the online focus for the campaigning as well as the Point of Sale promotion of the campaign.  I don’t doubt CAMRA claims that they were holding off endorsement as it was campaigning behind the scenes for action in the March 2012 budget and when that failed, the petition was embraced. However it is interesting to note that the name for the website was registered the day after the budget, so they obviously had a little bit of unfounded confidence that something could be done and then had to react quickly once that avenue closed.

Their efforts once onboard along side every major beer and pub trade association, took time to take off and progress was steady, not spectacular.  On paper this petition should have took very little time to reach the 100,000 signature target, CAMRA has 144,878 members as I write this and if only two thirds of them signed they would have done it alone without any assistance from the public.  The motion being forwarded was a no brainer from a beer drinkers point of view.

A two months after its launch, it had got 28,000 signatures, and after 5 months it had garnered 60,000 signatures, and had hit 87,000 names after 6 months, finally hitting 100,000 after 7 months.  In comparison the “Virgin Trains West Coast Franchise” e-petition took only 1 week to hit the same figure.  Of course they had a charismatic figurehead in Richard Branson and the might of the Virgin promotional team, but he didn’t have club with membership of enough numbers to fill the petition 1.5 times over just waiting to be mobilised, why it took 7 months is a question for the campaigns team at CAMRA to ask themselves, and why the apparent apathy within its ranks.

Phase 2 needs more focus, they need to target the right people and mobilise the supporters more effectively.  Clear leadership is needed to drive the campaign forward now and CAMRA doesn’t have a great history of clear leadership in many aspects of its organisation in recent years.  I hope that can change with this phase, but I fear not.