Updated: Thursday, 9th July 2020 @ 8:21am

Beer and Britain: Manchester experts describe how drinkers are swapping night in pub for bottle of vodka

Beer and Britain: Manchester experts describe how drinkers are swapping night in pub for bottle of vodka

By Neil Robertson

A dramatic decline in beer sales across pubs, supermarkets and off-licences has prompted leading officials from Greater Manchester’s brewing industry to criticise government measures.

Since the beer duty tax escalator was introduced by Labour in 2008, beer is now the worst-selling alcoholic beverage compared to the likes of spirits and wine in off-trade sales such as supermarkets and off-licences.

Pub closures have been another consequence of rising beer tax, largely due to people opting to buy from supermarkets rather than pubs.

Regional director of Greater Manchester’s Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), Ralph Warrington, criticised the detrimental effect rising tax has had on British pubs. 

“I think it’s quite an appalling policy,” he said. “It’s supposed to be there as a revenue generator, but it isn’t. There’s actually been less revenue since it (the beer duty tax escalator) was introduced.”

The statistics support this overview – despite a 5% increase in beer duty in the 2012 budget, revenue from beer duty has actually fallen by £20million. In comparison, wine duty has increased by £110million and spirits duty by £75million.           

Mr Warrington also pointed to supermarkets’ approach to selling alcohol. He said: “Alcohol is dispersed everywhere in supermarkets. It’s next to cheese, it’s next to crisps, it’s all over the place.”

The contrasting attitudes of pubs and supermarkets towards selling beer are a key factor in the closing of pubs in the region, Mr Warrington argued.

“In pubs, it’s illegal to sell anyone who’s drunk, whereas in supermarkets anyone can get hold of alcohol if they can get money out of their pocket.

“The pub is part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

Peter Alexander, chairman of the Rochdale, Oldham and Bury branch of CAMRA, shared a similar view.

“Pubs can still attract customers if the beer is good and the place is comfortable,” he said. “Beer itself has never been better; there are so many different kinds of beer around. The industry needs to do more to get people back in pubs.”

Regarding the beer duty escalator, Mr Alexander said: “It’s clearly an unfair tax. Supermarkets have a huge price advantage and because there’s a recession, people don’t have the money they used to.

“Social reasons are many and varied- price increases in pubs make drinking harder. What everyone needs to do in the industry is make the pub an attractive place to go, to make the people want to drink.”

The beer duty tax escalator – set to remain in place until 2015 means that the amount of tax paid on beer increases by 2% above inflation every year.

A memorandum sent by CAMRA to Chancellor George Osborne last month illustrated the devastating financial repercussions of this increase.

Whereas wine revenue has grown by nearly £7billion since 2008, beer revenue has only increased by £3billion.

Other findings are equally as damning for the beer industry. CAMRA revealed that 450 pubs closed between March and September 2012, saying that this was undeniably caused by high beer prices.

A report in February entitled ‘Beer taxation and the pub trade’ showed that beer has a higher duty per serving than wine, cider and spirits.

The minimum unit pricing policy was floated by the government last year to control cheap sales of spirits in off-trade locations. But in a hammer blow to pubs, reports suggest it will soon be scrapped.

Manchester Withington MP John Leech, while not convinced that the minimum pricing policy would make much of a difference, says the difference between on- and off-trade prices needs to be narrowed.

He said: “I’m unconvinced that minimal pricing would work although I would be willing to support a trial to see if it had an positive impact.

"I have long argued that a differential between off sale and on sale duty is what is needed.

"This would mean that more custom would be encouraged in pubs and bars where people can drink responsibly in the controlled pub environment rather than front loading.

"When 18 pubs a week are closing this could be something that could help to grow a struggling industry and halt the extinction of the Great British Pub."

There is a glimmer of hope for beer lovers however and over the last few years there has been a real resurgence in the microbrewery industry in the UK, and Manchester is no different.

The Marble Arch Brewery in North Manchester is a popular microbrewery in the region, and even has multiple pubs in the city centre, including one on Thomas Street.

Beermoth, a specialist beer shop on Tib Street, has also had significant success. It sells a selection of bottled beers from microbreweries around the world.

Tim Hampson, journalist and author of ‘The Beer Book’ and ‘101 Beer Days Out’, singled out The Marble Arch for praise.

Mr Hampson said: “The Marble Arch is showing that you can run very busy pubs by selling very good beer. That’s the type of enterprise we should be encouraging.

"This idea that people can go out and start brewing beers and enjoy them is one of the most exciting things to happen to the brewing industry in a generation.

"I think the whole movement is fantastic, dynamic, exciting and I hope it continues for a long time.”

Mr Hampson added: “What we want to do though is get people going back into pubs because they feel they can go there comfortably and that the pub’s a part of their community.

“People are substituting what they might have spent at the pub on a bottle of vodka.

“Pubs should be an affordable luxury and instead they’re becoming an unaffordable luxury.”

Picture courtesy of avlxyz, with thanks.

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