It’s unusual to see CAMRA being critical of J.D. Wetherspoon, not least because Wetherspoon pubs are the main – but no longer only – outlet for redeeming the 50p discount vouchers that members receive.
But CAMRA chief executive Tom Stainer and James Calder, chief executive of the Society for Independent Brewers (SIBA), have taken ’Spoons to task over the “Sunak’s Specials” posters put up in its pubs, advertising a pint of Ruddles for £1.29, Sharp’s Doom Bar for £1.79, and guest ales and Greene King Abbot for £1.99. Underneath, along with a picture of the smiling Chancellor, the posters proclaim: “Rishi Sunak, Legend: the man who instigated tax equality between supermarkets and pubs”.
Regular visitors to Wetherspoon pubs will know that boss Tim Martin is an ardent supporter of Brexit who’s never shy to regale us with his views – some like it, some hate it, and many couldn’t care less. But in this case, as the CAMRA/SIBA statement points out, the claim about tax equality simply isn’t true.
“A recent promotional poster from pub chain J.D. Wetherspoon has made it necessary for us to clarify that the Chancellor’s temporary VAT reduction only applies to food served in pubs, and excludes alcoholic drink sales which many traditional local pubs rely on for survival,” they say.
“Like all pubs, Wetherspoon will not be able to benefit from a VAT reduction on beer sales and it is disappointing to see them potentially mislead customers into believing cheaper beer prices are as a direct result of the Chancellor’s measures. It’s likely Wetherspoon can only offer these prices if it subsidises beer from increased profit on other revenue streams.
“Sadly, this is a strategy many independent, wet-led pubs do not have open to them. We’d hope consumers do not mistakenly believe that CAMRA or SIBA have endorsed this marketing approach – which we believe is unhelpful for the pub industry as a whole, and masks the truth that this VAT reduction will not directly result in cheaper beer prices and does little to help a large proportion of Britain’s pubs and brewers.”
The 867-strong Wetherspoon chain implemented price cuts for food, as well as some beers and soft drinks, due to the VAT cut. Founder and chairman Tim Martin said: “Wetherspoon will invest all the proceeds of the VAT reduction in lower prices, spread across both bar and food products, with the biggest reductions on real ale.
“Wetherspoon has campaigned for tax equality between pubs, restaurants and supermarkets for many years. Supermarkets pay no VAT on food sales and pubs pay 20 per cent. Supermarkets pay about two pence per pint of business rates and pubs pay about 20 pence. These tax differences have helped supermarkets to subsidise their selling prices of beer, wine and spirits, enabling them to capture about half of pubs’ beer sales, for example, in the past forty years.”
So there you have it – something to ponder as you sip your subsidised pint, which raises the wider issue of whether CAMRA members should even be using discount vouchers at a time when many pubs are struggling for survival, or taking advantage of CAMRA discounts made outside the voucher scheme. Personally I’ve not asked for a discount except at Wetherspoon, but I only venture in there if guest beers are available – which wasn’t always the case after re-opening. And I haven’t raised a toast to ‘Dishy Rishi’!
At Oxford CAMRA we have forged good relationships with local Wetherspoon pubs, nominating the Narrows in Abingdon for inclusion in the Good Beer Guide. But does it really do the image of real ale any good when you can buy it so cheaply — £1.29 a pint for Ruddles? George Ruddle must be quite dizzy from spinning in his grave, as his once-renowned Rutland brewery became part of Watneys in 1986 before passing to Morland and then Greene King.
What, indeed, is in a name?