The government is a bit of a chocolate fireguard when it comes to the pub sector, it puts up sensible policies initially which then melts away when any heat comes its way from big business.  So lets start this week by having a look at our new community pubs minister, Kris Hopkins.  His voting record does not inspire those in the beer and pub trade, he generally votes for higher taxes on beer, increasing the rate of VAT (which impacts beer prices post duty) and against forcing pub companies to offer rent only leases.   He is the MP for Keighley and Ilkley, home of several major regional brewing operations, so you would have assumed he wanted to support companies like Timothy Taylor, Ilkley Brewery and Naylors.

He is also a member of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group and has won the Parliamentary Beer Champion award, which is presented by the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA).   His register of interests for the last 2 years is blank, which is suspicious, given the BBPA and its members support of the “honorable member”.  The award from the BBPA simply seals the fact that the already inked deal that is the “The Statutory Code governing the PubCo / Tenant relationship” will be a stitch up between the pub companies and their friends in Westminister.   Luckily for us, he will also have to make time to mess up local government, adult social care and planning of wind farms, so the damage will be spread thinly over a wide area.

I don’t have a high opinion of politicians generally and think most of them are a waste of the carbon molecules that make them up.   But looking at the records from the Houses of Parliament, it shows exactly why the big beer and pub companies get their own way and why the members of the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group are merely patsies for their private paymasters.

Lets take a sample year and see who pays for the attention of these 20 MP’s.  In 2012-13, the following companies gave more than £5,000 to this group, Anheuser Busch In-Bev (AB InBev), Diageo, SAB Miller, Molson Coors (who are based in its chairmans constituency), Carlsberg (via two donations), Heineken and Punch Taverns.  Spot the missing influence, the small to medium operators from both the brewing and pub side of the business.  In 2013-14, there was a donation from the Society of Independent Brewers of £5,000, but other donations from the above list still weighed up to be much more.

The 2003 annual dinner must have caused a few hangovers the following morning as it was supported by 12 breweries and 9 pub companies.  The group has 20 members, so assuming each has 4 guests, that is 1 company for every 5 guests, not a bad ratio for influencing decisions over more than a few free beers, and I’m sure that the 12 breweries didn’t just turn up with 3 slabs of beer and dump it on the beer table for people to help themselves to.

Now lets move onto the BBPA.  This week they launched their vision for 2020.  On the surface it seems a good agenda, lowering of taxes to breweries and pubs, increasing the number of jobs in the sector and continued support of health and welfare initiatives.  However if you read between the lines and look at the language they use, the PubCo and big brewery agenda more than pokes it head out.

  • Campaign for lower rates of VAT on pub and restaurant food sales – but who owns most pubs who sell food, the big pub companies!
  • Reduction in beer duty?  The PubCo’s will pass on only part of this cut to tenants and make more money.
  • “Acceleration of the deregulation agenda” and “better enforcement of existing regulation” reads as can we have the status quo or better please.
  • Continued support for the tied, low-cost entry business model – they rather enjoy being the pimp for the thousands of pub tenants which are forced to pay their pound of flesh.
  • Self-regulation to be the default position ahead of legislation, they point to all the social and health awareness campaigns, but what they want is no statutory code, even the Tesco Value Orange Cordial of a code of conduct is too much for them.

The BBPA board is made up of representatives from Shepherd Neame, Enterprise Inns, Molson Coors, Charles Wells and Fullers, the latter two smaller names having no formal position.  The chairman Brigid Simmonds is a mouthpiece for the larger interests who support the organisation, the big brewing and pub operations.  They may have dozens of members, but who gets to sit at the top table at the annual dinner, its not a cider operation from Herefordshire but AB InBev, Diageo and Enterprise Inns.