One little word makes all the difference. On budget day George Osbourne announced there would no changes to planned alcohol duty. Initially this read (even by the BBC) as duty was not to be increased, but after listening more carefully what he said, what was really meant was that there was no change from the planned “inflation plus 2%” increase announced previously. When this 5.4% (3.4% inflation + 2%) increase takes effect, the price of a pint of beer will increase between 7p and 10p per pint.
In the grand scheme of things this doesn’t seem too much, but can be enough to make a small number of punters to stay at home and drink shop brought beer. With many pubs struggling as it is, even this small number of lost customers can make a disproportionate difference. To protect the licensed beer trade there was already a campaign to get 100,000 signatures on the stop the beer escalator petition under way, but without the vocal support of the largest beer consumer body CAMRA, who only started to support the petition officially via communications with its members on the day of the budget.
The reason given was that sending the message out to coincide with the rate increase would get the most publicity. This strategy has its risks, the timing of the press release could either ride the wave of the publicity for the tax post budget, or get drowned by the same wave, with the tax increase being the news instead of CAMRA’s campaign. In a non scientific survey of some major newspapers online the following day, The Guardian, Independent, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror made no mention of their support for the petition, with some them merely noting CAMRA’s disappointment with the tax hike. In national media it appears to have been drowned.
When searching for “camra beer tax escalator“ in Googles’ news search, it found 104 references to stories mentioning the words with a check of random results showing very little mention of their support for the petition. When merely searching for “beer tax escalator“ it returns nearly 5,000 matches, so the story again seems to have been lost in the wake of the actual policy. This is not to say that the CAMRA announcement will not come to more prominence once the post budget splash has settled, but I suspect it may have been better to do a pre or post budget campaign, something others online have disagreed with me on. Even if only a fraction of their membership was to sign it then it would pad out the current 20,000 who support the campaign to between 50,000 and 70,000 which pushes it significantly closer to a chance of debate.
Indeed if you do a web search for the same term, you see that individual CAMRA branches have already been active in promoting this campaign unofficially before the budget, and I commend them for that. The twitter feeds have also helped to raise the awareness. But we now have a year to raise 100,000 signatures to force it to be considered for a debate under the rules of the e-petition system. I ask that anybody reading this online or in print sign the petition to help to try and prevent future increases.
Regular readers may think that I am anti CAMRA, and although it is true that I have published more articles critical of the consumer body than in their praise, I do support what they do to a great degree. I think some of their policies, decisions and procedures are outdated and need updating, I am glad to report that some modernisation is now taking place regarding issues such as Craft Keg. However it appears that they still are a reactive body not a proactive one, this is a symptom of their size and diversity of their membership to some degree, but the management still need to be quicker to respond to the ever changing world of beer, cider and ale. This was a prime opportunity to show some leadership across the sector.
So a missed opportunity, maybe, only time will tell. I hope to be proved wrong and will hold my hands up happily if I am. If they could convince a majority of their 136,000 members to sign we will hit the target with their membership alone. Lets hope that their support, that of beer enthusiasts and other trade bodies will get us past the mark.