As you've probably heard by now, the Chancellor yesterday scrapped the 3p rise in beer duty due in April and has instead cut it by a penny. He has ended the beer duty escalator (inflation + 2%), but has kept it for wine, cider, spirits and cigarettes.
CAMRA has reacted to this news with elation, claiming that "pubs won’t need to increase their prices this year." Within half an hour of this assertion going on the CAMRA website, a licensee asked me why pubs don't need to increase prices this year, with fuel prices, rents, raw materials and pretty well all other costs rising at above inflation. I didn't know, so I asked CAMRA, and received this very prompt and courteous reply from the Campaigns Manager, Emily Ryans:
"We believe it's reasonable to expect that pubs won't increase their prices this year following yesterday's news that the beer duty escalator has been scrapped and beer duty has been cut by 1p. A 1p cut per pint equates to a 2% reduction - with inflation running at around 3% we think the 2% cut will be sufficient to avoid pub price increases. Of course other factors affecting prices such as fuel and raw materials feed into the level of inflation. In addition, many pub companies and brewers raised their prices just a few months ago to take rising costs of raw materials, rents and staffing etc into account so we would hope that they will not react to this news by raising prices further. We were heartened that several pub companies including Heineken and Enterprise Inns have already committed to pass this duty saving on to their consumers and we'll be encouraging others to do the same."
It sounds rather optimistic to me, but I do hope they're right. And, to be fair, CAMRA has every right to be pleased with the success of their campaigning on this issue. So let's see the reaction of the killjoys:
The chief executive of Alcohol Concern said: "Too many people are dying and suffering from crime and poor health because of alcohol misuse. Sadly there was nothing in this budget which shows a real and practical commitment from the Government to tackling this. If we’re to get to grips with this problem, and we must, the Government has to take the lead and target strong, cheap, alcohol – the kind drunk by the most vulnerable in our society, the young and the very heavy drinker. Although the Chancellor said the Government will look at plans to tackle cheap, strong booze we cannot delay, we urgently need to see a firm commitment to introduce a minimum unit price, a measure which all the evidence shows will save lives and cut crime.”
All the evidence shows no such thing. The findings I've seen suggest that minimum pricing could save X number of lives, could cut crime and disorder by X% and could save £X billion pounds in policing and NHS costs. "Could" is not a term that suggests scientific rigour, and it just makes this so-called research little more than informed guess work. With sales of alcohol inexorably moving from the pub to the supermarket, i.e. from public places into the home, all we are doing is moving problem drinking out of sight, which I genuinely believe politicians are quite happy about, seeing that they are in the business of smoke and mirrors. This effect seems blindingly obvious to me, but as the old saying goes, there are none so blind as those who will not see; so fixated are the killjoys on their own solutions that they are unable to contemplate the unintended consequence that they aren't solving the problem; they're just concealing it.
Ultimately, while yesterday's budget announcements are welcome, they are not a solution to the difficulties facing the pub industry. All they have done is prevent a bad situation becoming worse, but if I'm honest, even that's rather better than I expected.