Britain has many features which are among the best in the world.  We may not have the biggest mountains, even compared to most of our immediate neighbours, but we have many national parks which have views which would rival any in the world.  It is the same with our pubs, France may have their cafe bars, Germany their bierkellers, Greece their tavernas and Spain their tapas bars, but nothing can compare to a good British pub.  Come rain or shine you can get a good beer and there is no place I’d rather drink than one of our esteemed drinking establishments.   The acres of varnished wood, the stone floor, the rows of brass pumps with the various pump clips from a number of the excellent breweries this country produces and the mix of drinkers you get, you just can’t beat it.

In fact what lets down British pubs is related mitigating factors.  We do not suffer from extreme cold or heat compared to other places in the world, but merely just muddle along getting fairly average weather all year round which can be inclement very regularly.  A period of sunshine can convert the trade at a public house from ticking along to creating a healthy profit, with a good summer being the saviour of many a pub.  Despite the scrapping of the beer duty escalator, tax on beer is still too high compared to other countries, and a good pint in many places will cost you close to £3.  A reduction in beer duty would bring people back into the pubs and spending more money when they are there.

An example of this price reduction effect can be seen at my local cricket club, Southowram, who recently moved their beer supply from Theakstons to Samuel Smiths, and as a result was able to cut their prices to members by 40-50p per pint.  This may sound like a bad move financially, but the club is making more profit from beer overall.  The logic behind this is quite simple, the prices previously were £2.60 to £2.80 for bitter and lager, now dropped to £2.10 and £2.30.  People can now bring out a fiver and get a couple of pints of beer, whereas with the old prices, this was not possible, ergo a couple can go out for a couple of hours for less than a tenner.

The difference is only a few quid, but the psychological trigger in peoples minds is saying “we’ve not even spent a fiver (each)” and they return to spend more another day. Of course there is the cost of two drinks to the club, compared to one, but the profit made on a second pint that isn’t sold is nothing, compared to a smaller profit on two pints more than rolling up to a greater overall profit per visit.  If a tax cut could bring prices down by double digits then a similar mental attitude could take place more generally across the population as long as pubs gave customers the benefit of the full tax cut.

Some people will say that we will get increased binge drinking, however if people are addicted to alcohol or want drink and cause trouble, then a price difference this small would make little difference to the situation as it would mean one extra pint for every 20 drank and after the first 10, however many over that amount will lead to the same issues.  Pubs which may have problems from the increased consumption are probably having issues already.

Of course some of our pubs are at more of a handicap than others, as you know from the topic arc from the last few weeks in this column, we have many pub landlords who suffer unfair conditions from the owners of the properties otherwise know as the pub companies, with unfair beer prices and rent levels.  There is a level of grouped ownership in the UK licensed premises market that you would not see an any other country, could you imagine France, Germany, Spain or Italy putting up with the same commercial conditions placed on large number of the countries cafes, kellers or bars that tied pubco premises are typically.

Why we do is due to decades of allowing breweries and the pub companies to gobble up huge numbers of pubs even when legislation is designed to stop it (think Beer Orders) is introduced, the same has not happened elsewhere.  Why do we, who have some of the best drinking establishments and brewery scenes in the world allow this abuse.  The new legislation going through Parliament currently needs to help undo decades of poor control, lets hope it does.

  1. Jake says:

    You say a good pint in many places will cost you close to £3. It’s fair to say that a bad pint in many places will cost in excess of that!