Pubpaper 745 – Beer Mat Politics

Posted: 8th February 2014 by santobugtio in Pub Paper, Writing

The Government doesn’t get beer and pubs.  Let me rephrase that, it gets quite a few bars and lots of beer at the Houses Of Parliament subsidised by every taxpayer in the country, what it doesn’t get is the real world outside of Westminster.

Let me take you back a couple of weeks.  England open their World Cup campaign against Italy on Saturday 14th June, the match kicking off at 11pm due to time differences.  The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) requested a universal extension of opening hours for all pubs to allow them to remain serving until the match finished at 1am in the morning.   Norman Baker, the Home Office minister, refused this request saying that each pub had to apply for a temporary events notice (TEN) if their licensed hours did not already cover the period of the match.

A TEN costs £21 from the local council, so it is not a major outlay for the pub in question, the council make very little on this fee once the form has been processed and the paperwork sent out.  However this mean that there are probably 35,000-40,000 (out of the UK’s 49,000 pubs) applications which need to be processed in the next 5 months across the country.   Just one document issued by the government taking a couple of days to draft and publish allowing a blanket license would avoid at least 2 years of man hours being spent on issuing individual licenses.

The wording on that single document would easily fit into that last paragraph even with the padding which comes from any legal document or government document.  As expected there was quite an outcry across trade and national press when Mr Baker refused to issue the document requested by the BBPA and the Prime Minister has intervened saying “Home Office will conduct a consultation with interested parties before a final decision is made on whether pubs can stay open late for the England match.” and “It is right that we consult but, subject to that consultation, clearly our intention would be that pubs would be able to be open for the relevant games, reflecting the fact that it is a major national event.”.   Lets see those words turned into actions now.

Such blanket orders can be granted under powers to relax the rules to mark an occasion of exceptional international, national or local significance”, as was done for the Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee.  I’m not the biggest follower of the England Team and can take it or leave it when it comes to their results, being more concerned about my club football with my birth town team of Leicester City.  What I do appreciate is that there are millions of football fans who are bothered about the result and wouldn’t mind going to watch this at the pub with a crowd and a few good beers.  Lets be honest, at least as many fall into this camp as were bothered about two toffs getting married or someone holding on to their job for 60 years.

It is not just this decision which shows how out of touch they are with the real world both in front of and behind the bar.   The amount of time and campaigning it took to get rid of the beer tax escalator by every beer and pub related organisation in the country showed that they are reactive, not proactive in identifying where a small loss of tax income may well do a public good.  We all need our down time, a lot of us like a beer or two or whatever your tipple of choice is, and if you can go to the pub for a little bit less money then surely it can only do more good than harm.  A 10p difference in the price of beer is not going to turn a casual drinker into a roaring drunk, but if it keeps beer prices below the customers psychological price barrier for a pint of beer, then it means pubs will benefit and so will the tax take.  The BBPA estimate that these two hours requested for the World Cup opening match  will generate £20 million in food and drink sales of which the Government will get a minimum £4-5 million in various taxes, not a bad return for a couple of days of civil service time and certainly a lot more than the £200,000 made by local councils from 40,000 individual licences making at most £5 in profit.

If you look at the time spent defending this refusal by the Home Office, it could easily have been spent putting this proposal into law.   Shortsightedness is something which some of those in Westminster suffer from, and we, the public, and the trade sometimes pay for it.

  1. Jolly Jock says:

    Not sure I’m 100% with you on this one. The problem with blanket extensions is that they fail to take into account local variations. Ideally landlords and their customers will always be considerate neighbours, but on occasions that’s not the case, maybe particularly so where a sporting event is concerned – we’ve generally not had pitched battles over the Royals in the last few 100 years. At the extreme end, look at the problems in Bedford in 2012 when Italy turned England over – I doubt if the police there are looking forward to having people out in the streets. Perhaps a presumption of extension unless refused on a case by case basis would be better?

  2. Curmudgeon says:

    The political class are basically distrustful of pubs as they are places where people gather together and potentially engage in subversive talk.

    Many politicians praise pubs in a kind of motherhood-and-apple-pie way, but when the chips are down they are happy to support measures that damage them.

    However, it has to be said in this case there was a pretty swift volte-face by the Prime Minister.