Acting local: councils and alcohol policy

9. September 2013 06:31

News that Newcastle City Council, among others, has succeeded in getting a number of licensed premises to apply minimum pricing policies raises some interesting questions, not least about the relative weight of local - as against national - alcohol strategies.

While the government dithers and vacillates, councils have been getting on with the pragmatics of licensing, most notably in removing high strength beers and ciders from off-trade shelves. This, along with a version of minimum unit pricing, has been achieved by agreement with the operator.

Lurking behind the cosy deals, of course, is the threat that the council might find a reason to turn down or review the licence if the premises doesn’t comply. But more than that, operators are conscious that they need a good working relationship with the local authority and the police in order to carry on their business with the minimum of hassle.

There is a question, one for bigger legal brains than mine, about whether minimum pricing or a ban on certain drinks could be legitimately enforced. Competition laws will come into play and an authority will also have to prove that the measures are necessary to achieving the licensing objectives, premises by premises. This could be tricky, though it may be easier in Scotland where they have a public health objective on top of the other four.

So far, though, it’s happening voluntarily. It’s almost as if government policy-making, and all the attention and aggravation it attracts, is irrelevant. Licensing has always been a peculiar beast before the 2003 Act magistrates wielded massive power. Even within the fairly restrictive framework of the old licensing laws, they were key to the fast growth of the night-time economy from the mid-1990s, applying a liberal approach to new licence applications and hours extensions.

Councils today are arguably even more powerful than magistrates, and now they have responsibility for public health, too. There’s a danger that it goes to their heads; last year Westminster Council tried to make the Newman Arms in Fitzrovia serve drinks more slowly and remove tables from its dining area to ease congestion on the pavement outside. That was ridiculous by any standards, and Westminster backed down rather than test the extent of its powers.

But it was worrying that the licensees felt they had to oblige or face a licence review. That’s not partnership working, that’s trying it on. Genuine agreements with operators are fine. If local authorities start pushing people around, though, it could get messy.

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Good pub, bad pub

2. September 2013 06:24

Last Thursday was what my mum calls a “tin hat day” in the pub industry. Invective flew like grenades after the Good Pub Guide declared that over the next 12 months up to 4,000 pubs will go out of business. And not before time, according to Guide editors Alisdair Aird and Fiona Stapley: “These are the pubs at the bottom of the pecking order, the Bad Pubs, which still behave as if we are stuck in the 1980s; happy with indifferent food, drink, service and surroundings.”

Trenches were dug on either side of the argument. Roger Protz, editor of The Good Beer Guide, described his arch-rival’s view as “morally repugnant” and called for a public apology. Times columnist Giles Coren said Aird and Stapley were pussy-footing around and that all pubs should close.

There’s no doubt that the Good Pub Guide was looking for a sensational angle to get publicity for its new edition and that 4,000 figure seems wildly inflated since the closure rate is currently around a third of that, and is predicted to fall. And to say, as the editors do, that only bad pubs close is spurious since good pubs undoubtedly close - it’s just that they become bad pubs first. The question is, why do good pubs become bad pubs? And what, exactly, do we mean by a ‘bad pub’?

These are big questions - too big to answer here. But it does seem to me that, for all its protests, the Good Pub Guide has a relatively narrow definition of a “good pub”, which is certainly relative to the Good Beer Guide.

And it isn’t just about standards. The Good Pub Guide’s emphasis is undoubtedly on food, and on what are called ‘destination’ pubs. There’s nothing wrong with that - unless you start doing down pubs that don’t conform. And that was how many took the editors’ comments.
There are many pubs that won’t make it into the Good Pub Guide that are worth keeping. And not all of them are in the Good Beer Guide, either.

There is a principle to defend. The idea that there is such a thing as a pub that’s distinct from a restaurant or a bar. It doesn’t mean that pubs mustn’t change. Many pubs have adapted to changing circumstances while retaining a core ‘pubness’. It’s an elusive quality but you know it when you see it.

And while food has become essential for many, it’s not a panacea. Some businesses have overstretched themselves by trying to introduce a menu there is no market for, no chef for and no kitchen for.

It’s curious that the Good Pub Guide’s awards have a category for Unspoilt Pubs. So does that mean the rest of them have been spoilt?

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Good pubs and how they are created

30. August 2013 05:27

How many “good” pubs are there in the UK? The simple answer is: more than last year and a heck of a lot more than five years ago. The newly-published Good Pub Guide 2014 claims there are 4,800 or so excellent establishments and 4,000 pubs at the other end of the spectrum that are likely to close because they do not pass muster. In between these two extremes, it estimates there are 40,000 or so “average pubs” which range from “straightforward locals to the big chains of standard-pattern eateries and drinkeries with their reliably consistent offerings: you always get what you expect, no less – but no more.”

The Good Pub Guide’s editors were on the receiving end of a good deal of opprobrium when they suggested yesterday that the evolutionary culling of sub-standard pubs was a positive thing, strengthening the remainder of the industry. There is a fairly overt strain of snobbery inherent in the Good Pub Guide’s dismissal of the thousands of mainstream managed pubs with their huge volumes of food and drink, offering high quality food and drink at affordable prices. They may not be where Good Pub Guide editors choose to hold their lunches, but UK consumers flock to them for the very reasons that produce curled lips among the chattering classes. But broadly, it is hard to argue that every underinvested, poorly positioned terraced pub with a low level of amenity could and should be saved. Part of the pressure on the bottom-end pub stock in the UK is coming from the ever-improving top end of the sector where skills are rippling out across more and more sites. Skilled chefs tutored in London’s finest kitchens, former executives of large managed operators, talented entrepreneurs equipped with the nous to create a new generation of pub, restaurateurs retro-fitting pubs with sophisticated food offers, talented localists who understand their provincial markets intimately and brewers who care about their retail standards as much as their mash tuns are among the many diverse groups transforming the top-end pub landscape.

This phalanx of talent is moving quickly. Our database at Propel Info has no fewer than 520 multi-site pub operators running sites across the UK. The actual number, we suspect, is at least twice that number – it is just that many are still at such an embryonic position they rarely seek national “trade” publicity. The contrast with yesterday’s landscape can be seen at the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, which had a far more limited membership a decade ago – pure food specialists within the pub arena, for example, were more of a rarity.

The advance of skills across the pub sector is being helped by the tenanted pub companies, which still, let us remember, own 40% of the stock. We at Propel were delighted to see the huge response to Punch Taverns’ open invitation, issued through us, to outstanding operators to meet their top brass next week to discuss mutual business opportunities. The current Punch approach to co-investment with the UK’s best multi-siters is a model for how progress can be speeded up. Likewise, barely a day seems to pass without former Spirit’s leased division forming a new partnership with an outstanding multi-site operator. Over at Enterprise, which has some of the UK’s finest pub stock in its portfolio, it is equally good to see flexible and imaginative leases being signed with the likes of InnBrighton and the West Country restaurant operator Mezze. Despite the current noise about the tenanted model, it is instructive that Nick Pring and Malcom Heap, whose Realpubs success was built on the foundations of several Enterprise leases, have returned to their roots, with an Enterprise lease chosen for their second London Ordinaries pub. No surprise, too, that Propel was able to report this week how quickly London Ordinaries has transformed that pub’s performance.

One of the best current examples of how a pub experience can be transformed by talented individuals is the four-strong company Yummy Pubs, led by Tim Foster and Anthony Pender. All four pubs are reporting triple digit growth, and the company’s Somers Town pub in Kings Cross, where the pair are receiving extraordinary support from landlord Charles Wells, is a particular trading phenomenon. It is interesting to note, also, how dismissive a talent like Foster is of the current proposals to bring in statutory regulation of the sector. He was an attendee of the recent Tenanted Pub Company Summit and knows full well that success is in the hands of his team. Foster wrote in his blog: “The big issue at the moment – self-regulation or let the planks from Whitehall get involved. We’re big enough and ugly enough to sort ourselves out. Christ, the majority of MPs can’t even do their bloody expenses right and they think they can come and fix one of the most complex industries in the world with a magic fairy wand? It was the first time I have heard Dr Vince Cable talk in public – he was awful. It was the first time I have heard Ted Tuppen talk in public – he was fantastic. I was asked to sit on a panel and tell the room what I thought of my relationships with my landlords. It’s pretty simple: we have a fantastic relationship with one, frustrating as hell with another and non-existent with the last. We’re very self-sufficient, we actually don’t need anyone’s help – what we need is for them to not get in the way of our progress. But if they have great people that can help us as Charles Wells do, we’ll take every single bit of it.”

No kind of government intervention is going to produce more ‘good’ pubs. That’s down to the industry and its fostering of people like Foster.

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Pub atmosphere and the island bar

27. August 2013 04:39

On Friday night I went to one of my favourite pubs, the Snowdrop in Lewes, Sussex. It was also, apparently, one of the late John Peel’s favourite pubs. It’s a different kind of place now, having been through a difficult patch before it was rescued by the present licensees, but it’s retained what you might call ‘personality’.
 
The food and beer are very good, of course, but there’s something more, something irreducible to the products the Snowdrop is selling, something in the air that leads people to resort to that much over-worked term ‘atmosphere’.

‘Atmosphere’ is a bit like ‘culture’ – it’s one of those vague dead-end words that are there to stop you analysing any further. It’s just there, as if by magic. But it’s not going to get in the way of an old unreconstructed materialist like me.

The Snowdrop has an island bar, and I reckon that’s got something to do with it. There’s a successful multiple operator down here called Indigo, and the first thing it does when it takes over a pub is install an island bar. Moving a bar isn’t cheap, so this isn’t done lightly. And it seems to work. I’ve seen quiet pubs become busy pubs overnight - there’s a distinct change in the atmosphere, a buzz that makes it feel like the place to be, that you’ve made the right decision coming here.

One thing about island bars is that they take up more of the trading area, which you might consider a bad thing since it reduces capacity and therefore potential turnover. But it also means that the place feels busier with fewer customers. And it becomes a sort of self-fulfilling prophesy because people are attracted to a busy pub. An island bar lowers the critical mass necessary for that effect.

Another factor is the greater interaction between customers and bar staff. There’s a social responsibility angle here, in that an island bar acts as a Panopticon, giving staff a view of more of the pub.

Reversing the line of sight customers also have a better view of the staff, and more opportunity to interact with them. Bar staff are always, to some extent, on stage. Whether this has a positive effect, of course, depends on the staff. If they’re properly engaged with doing their job, always active and interested even when there’s no one to serve, that energy transfers across the ramp to the customers. That’s what was happening in the Snowdrop the other night.

An island bar enhances this effect, but it can’t produce it by itself. That’s down to the people behind it.

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The micro-pub movement is a boost for the basics by Martyn Cornell

23. August 2013 05:36

In an earlier era, it might have been called “back to basics”, a return to the two core themes of the British pub that have defined it since the first Anglo-Saxon alewife hung a green bush from the eaves of her hovel to show that she was open for business: drink and chat.

At least three more “micro-pubs” popped up this week, one on the edge of Wolverhampton claiming to be the first such outlet in the West Midlands, another in Hucknall, Nottinghamshire and a third (which was granted its licence but still has to obtain planning permission) in Devizes, Wiltshire. These openings bring to more than two dozen the number of micro-pubs opened since Martyn Hillier founded the genre in 2005 with The Butcher’s Arms in Herne, Kent.

For five years, Hillier marched pretty much alone, before a burst of openings beginning in the second half of 2010. Seven new micro-pubs appeared in 2012, and ten so far this year. This may not yet be a tidal wave: but it certainly appears to be more than a ripple.

The essence of a micro-pub is not just that it is small – most have only one room, and a capacity of no more than 25 or so customers before things start to get uncomfortably sweaty – but that it eschews almost everything the modern pub chain owner would regard as essential in today’s British boozer. There will be no TV, juke box or gaming machines, and no food except traditional snacks. It will almost certainly sell only cask beer (most likely from local small brewers), cider and wine: no spirits, no famous-name lagers. The big opportunity for entertainment is the chance to chat with the other customers, who may or may not be complete strangers.

This is, of course, very far from a new idea. The local village alehouse provided just these facilities for centuries. A tremendous boost to the country’s stock of small drinkeries came with the Beerhouse Act of 1830, which resulted in tens of thousands of mostly small beer-only on-licence outlets with limited facilities opening in cities, towns and villages: the micro-pub is in essence the beerhouse for the 21st century. While licensing magistrates began to cull these beerhouses in their hundreds at the start of the 20th century, shutting them down as “surplus”, many survived pretty much unaltered to well past the Second World War, except that almost all eventually acquired licences allowing them to sell spirits, along with the trappings of modernity: not just a proper bar, a carpeted floor, electric lighting and decent toilets (I still remember fondly the outside gents at an isolated beerhouse in the Hertfordshire countryside in the 1970s, where you could gaze up at the stars while going about your business) but gaming machines, televisions, keg beers and lagers, food beyond crisps and pickled eggs.

As the very last of the unreformed beerhouses disappear, however (there are reckoned to be fewer than 20 “unaltered” pubs left in Britain), the micro-pub appears to be resurrecting their best values. The slow rise since the 1950s of the home as the place for entertainment and relaxation, and drinking, rather than the pub, placed increasing pressure on pubs to attract people through their doors. But pubs’ efforts to compete with the home, paradoxically, badly damaged their ability to be what the American sociologist Ray Oldenburg called “the third place”, that haven which was not-home and not-work where people could go and relax from the pressures of home and work, and talk and laugh and joke and interact with others with whom one had no relationship of responsibility. Instead many pubs became places where it was impossible to relax: too noisy, full of flickering distractions, full of strangers who you couldn’t chat with, even if you wanted to, because you couldn’t hear each other.

There has been, and still is, a suggestion that the coffee bar is replacing the pub as the “third place”, the community hub where friends meet up and meet new friends. But to believe this is to underestimate two important factors: the importance of alcohol as a social lubricant, and relaxant, and the role that the pub plays in Britain’s image of itself. Think of the vital parts that The Rovers Return, The Queen Vic, The Bull in Ambridge have their hugely popular fictional societies. Britons of all kinds and classes wish to live in communities where they had a Rovers Return or a Bull of their own to use as their third place. Our self-image is that of a pub-going nation. No Briton ever said after work: “Coming down the coffee bar?”.

The micro-pub movement, by stripping back to the basics, appears to be trying to fill that need for a third place where people can interact with others in the community that many clearly feel is lost in many pubs today. It is a point that seems as yet unremarked, incidentally, that the micro-pub movement only took off after the ban on smoking in public places: with barely one in five people in Britain smoking today, it appears too few people wanted to spend time in small smoke-filled rooms for the idea of a pre-smoking ban micro-pub to work.

There will have to be at least a hundred times more micro-pubs open before it can even start to be called a genuine movement. They will have to be opening in more varied places than small towns. But if and when that starts happening, pub chain owners are going to have to think about whether the pub offer has become unnecessarily overcomplicated in the past 50 years.

Martyn Cornell is managing editor of Propel Info

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How easy is it not to drink?

19. August 2013 04:38

A lively little debate sprung up on Twitter the other day after a non-drinker posted a blog on the It’s the Drink Talking website writing about the pressures exerted on people who choose not to drink alcohol.

Beccy Allen, the non-drinker in question, boldly raised some issues that aren’t often mentioned and made some good points. I especially liked her point about constantly being asked why she doesn’t drink. Why should she have to explain herself? And why do drinking people have this urge to know?

The debate revolved chiefly around whether this pressure on non-drinkers is getting better or worse, whether drinking alcohol is getting more or less ‘normal’.

In my own drinking lifetime, in the context of my own biography, there has been a steep decline in what you might call habitual drinking. But then I’m a journalist, and journalists used to drink stupendously.

When I was last a staff journo, working on a drinks trade title to boot, I found myself alone in the pub at lunchtime. I felt like I was the custodian of a dying tradition. One of those people in a remote corner of the world who are the last to speak their language.

And I don’t think it’s just journalists. Lunchtime drinking in general has declined. Publicans themselves don’t drink so much, and alcohol plays less of a role in events. I’ve been at drinks brand press conferences where they refuse to give you a drink until they’ve finished the presentations.

There are still occasions, though, when it’s difficult not to drink. The Drink Talking blog is aimed at young people, and they are drawn into certain rituals in which alcohol plays an important role in reducing inhibitions and social bonding.

While young people are drinking considerably less overall, these set-piece occasions remain – as they do for the rest of the population. It’s not just celebrations. It’s hard not to drink when you’re with a bunch of mates down the pub on a Friday night.

People will make their excuses to stay indoors rather than spend a session on soft drinks. Although I think that’s mainly because soft drinks are just not made to be drunk like that, above any kind of peer pressure.

Most drinkers are cool with not-drinking these days, I sense. Though we still feel an impolite question welling up inside us. I will never quite be at rest until I know why it is, exactly, that Beccy Allen doesn’t drink.

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Turning older people into the new binge drinkers

13. August 2013 06:12

As alcohol consumption among young people veers into steep long-term decline, public health advocates have increasingly turned their attention to other sections of the population whose drinking they can worry about – old people, for instance.

This was highlighted last year when Joan Bakewell hosted a rather unfortunate episode of the BBC’s Panorama documentary in which she rashly, and wrongly, predicted minimum pricing would save 50,000 lives over a decade.

The figure, supplied by the University of Sheffield, should have been a less sexy 11,500 and the programme has now been re-edited to include the correction. Undaunted, researchers have now come up with another way of inflating drink problems among the old; changing the definition of the problem.

Following a suggestion from the Royal College of Psychiatrists that the recommended limit for men and women aged over 65 be halved to 1.5 units and one unit respectively, boffins at University College London have calculated that such a change would multiply the numbers of older people at risk massively to more than three million. This would mean that old people are an even bigger problem than young people. Not really a surprising result if you’re going to double the width of the goalposts.

I don’t deny that getting old makes you more vulnerable to health problems and alcohol harm – that seems obvious. But to mess about with the guidelines like this, guidelines that we know were ‘plucked out of the air’ anyway, for the sole purpose of producing a shocking statistic for headline writers seems to be trivialising the matter.

As people get older they face many challenges. Giving up work can remove a sense of purpose. Losing a life-long partner can make them feel isolated and depressed. Ill-health and disability can leave them unable to do the things they used to do. While generally people tend to drink less as they get older, these changes may mean they start to drink more in order to cope. They may drink in a positive way, meeting up with friends down the pub, for instance, to relieve the loneliness. Or they may drink in a negative way, on their own. They may even feel that they’ve worked all their lives and now they’re going to enjoy themselves a bit more.

These are very rough scenarios, of course, but they suggest that if older people are going to have a problem with alcohol we need to be able to help them adjust by looking at their lives in a more holistic way. Suddenly telling them they’re drinking too much because we’ve changed the guidelines is pretty rubbish.

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Drink-driving is falling despite ignorance of alcohol units

29. July 2013 04:11

It’s nice to know that, according to new Mintel research, we haven’t lost our love for pubs, even though a lot of people can’t afford to go out so much. Socialising down the pub was still important to most of those surveyed – even though two-thirds thought it too expensive. But what Mintel chose to focus on was the suggestion that once they’re in the pub people don’t really know how much they’re drinking. Generally, we still perceive a shot of spirits in a mixer as being stronger than a pint of beer and don’t have a firm grasp of alcohol units. That’s not really very surprising – but how worried should we be about it? After all, we’re drinking less, and have been for nearly a decade now. And judging by the Mintel research it seems all the money that’s been spent on our unit education hasn’t been a major factor in that.

What we’ve seen, instead, is a powerful consumer demand for lower-strength drinks. This has resulted in a new wave of 4% ABV premium lagers, much experimentation in developing wines of around 5% ABV and some interesting moves in the cider market.

Last month, for instance, Weston’s launched Rosie’s Pig as a “lower ABV alternative” to its established Old Rosie. At 4.8% it’s not quite a lightweight but it’s still considerably weaker than Old Rosie’s 7.3%, which the cidermakers considered an impediment to expanding the market for the brand.

And the other day Aspall went further by reviving 18th century ciderkin, a weak cider made by pouring water over the crushed apples, or pomace, after the juice has been squeezed out. It was thought a suitable drink for children in the days when water was dangerous.

I’m not sure that Aspall has exactly reproduced this style, but at 3.8% its Cyderkyn certainly opens up a new lower-alcohol premium band in the draught cider market.

Mintel, though, is concerned that misunderstanding alcoholic strength is a particular problem in the on-trade because of drink-driving, a good point as the rule-of-thumb for many drivers is that one drink won’t put them over the limit – which may not be true of a 250ml glass of wine nor a pint of Weston’s Old Rosie.

So I checked the drink-drive stats. It appears that estimated casualties from drink-driving accidents rose slightly in 2011, but it’s still fewer than 10,000 a year. In 1979 the figure was more than three times that, and even in the last decade casualties have halved.

Over the years drivers have become much smarter at managing their drinking, choosing weaker drinks and smaller measures. They may not understand units, but they’re not completely stupid.

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The World’s End – but not for pubs (contains spoilers)

23. July 2013 05:04

The World’s End, the third film in the Simon Pegg and Nick Frost ‘Cornetto Trilogy’, is about a pub crawl. It’s about an alien invasion, too, but the important thing is the pub crawl.

Pegg’s character, Gary King, rounds up a gang of old schoolmates in a bid to complete a 12-pub circuit of their home town, something they’d never quite achieved 20 years earlier.

What’s most striking is how little has changed.

To begin with, all the pubs are still there, a scenario slightly less likely than the alien invasion, considering what the industry’s been through the last few years.
True, one has become a nightclub and, without giving too much of the plot away, another is the headquarters for the invasion. But the chances that none of them has been turned into a Tesco Metro or something are diminishingly small. Also, the pubs themselves seem to be stuck in the early 1990s. One joke is that the interiors of the first two on the crawl are identical. This is explained by the fact they’ve been taken over by a chain.

There is certainly a recognisable style of décor, especially a particular kind of chalkboarding, that persists, but the current trend is to move away from that towards something more individual and minimalist.

King goes to the bar and asks what the guest ale is. Another joke is that he’s failed to grow up, but that doesn’t explain the ‘landlord’ offering a single obscure cask beer. This is exactly what used to happen 20 years ago in the wake of the Beer Orders when tenants felt obliged to take advantage of the guest beer concession in the legislation. These days you’re likely to find a much wider choice. And better quality, too.

The World’s End is, in large part, an exercise in nostalgia, but it’s a nostalgia for the bad old days rather than the good old days. Even the androids the aliens have constructed to replace humans are shoddy pieces of work, falling apart at the clumsiest drunken punch.

To survive these difficult times pubs have had to improve. In the main it’s the shoddy ones with the poor choice and the bad service that have closed. Now the task is to convince people that, among the survivors, things have got better.

Hopefully audiences at The World’s End won’t believe modern pubs are really like that anymore than they suspect the person sitting next to them has been body-snatched.

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George Osborne: is he really good for beer?

15. July 2013 07:01

In retrospect it was serendipity that, for the first time in my life, I forgot to make myself a cup of tea this morning. By now, I would be mopping the Assam off keyboard and screen, and probably getting used to a sepia-toned abstract expressionist mural. For, catching up on last week’s news, I dry-spluttered not once but twice over events at the All Party Parliamentary Beer Group’s 20th Annual Dinner.

This first was the award of Beer Drinker of the Year to Chancellor George Osborne. George Osborne? Beer drinker? I don’t think so. He’s more your claret and champers type, surely.

Then I remembered - perverse as it might sound - the Beer Drinker of the Year doesn’t have to be a beer drinker. Osborne, rather, had done beer a good turn by freezing duty and lopping a penny off a pint at the last budget.

Not that beer drinkers themselves will have noticed. Or, at least, as a bona fide beer drinker I haven’t noticed, as the price of my pint of ale creeps ever nearer the dreaded £4 mark.

Though I shouldn’t complain about this as I’ve long argued that as a crafted, fresh product pubs should be charging more for cask beer; relative to standard lager.

The words ‘nose’, ‘spite’ and ‘face’ spring to mind.

Even so, I’m not sure Osborne is doing much good for pub-going beer drinkers with the rest of his economic policy. Beer is paid for out of what they call ‘disposable income’ which has just seen its sharpest decline for 25 years. Austerity is not good for beer. Or for much else, come to that.

Then I read about Brandon Lewis MP’s speech at the same event. Lewis is community pubs minister, which is a nice thing to have, but he was talking about how pubs can have a role in attracting people into town centres. Now, if people are going into town for a drink they’re not going to be using their local community pub, are they? They might do both, of course, if it wasn’t for lack of disposable income.

So that was baffling. But what caused the splutter was the idea of using pubs to regenerate town and city centres. Twenty years ago they did that, allowing vast ‘superpubs’ to proliferate on the high street – and then they complained about the resulting disorder. Good management can avoid that, but it requires planning and investment. It requires regulation and money.

Somehow, I don’t think Mr Lewis has thought this through.

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About the author

Phil Mellows

Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist and writer specialising in the UK pub industry and alcohol policy. For more information, and the Politics of Drinking blog, go to www.philmellows.com
You can also follow Phil on Twitter at www.twitter.com/philmellows

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