It cuts both ways as new alcohol duty regime is introduced

Cut in draught beer duty may have little impact while cost of other drinks escalates

These things always look good at first sight, don’t they? It was announced last year that CAMRA’s long running campaign to get a preferential duty rate for draught beer and cider (cask or keg) sold in pubs had finally paid off, meaning a cut in prices of up to about 10p a pint which might go some little way towards closing the yawning gap between pub prices and what you pay in shops and supermarkets.

But of course, that was only part of it for pubs. Not only will that duty cut be lost in all the price increases currently afflicting pubs, but the new alcohol duty rates, based on the volume of alcohol and introduced from August 1, will bump up the cost of wine, spirits and any other drink with higher alcohol content than the average beer. Ask any pub about the changes and they are not likely to be happy. And if there is any cut in draught beer prices as a result, you can guarantee it won’t last long. Would you even notice 10p off when the average pint in Oxford now costs around £5?

‘Let’s hope I can pull this off’ — the PM at BTTF

CAMRA celebrated the cut in draught beer duty at the Great British Beer Festival in London this week, when our teetotal PM Rishi Sunak came to visit for the “obligatory” photoshoot. He was pictured pouring a pint and appearing to be a “regular guy” on the side of the ordinary drinker, as have most PMs before him in recent memory including Cameron and Johnson (though not at GBBF, admittedly).

Sunak didn’t get it all his own way, however, as it was reported in The Guardian that he was heckled by a London publican in attendance at the show who complained about exactly this. The duty burden on our hard pressed pubs is increasing at exactly the time that they need more help from Government just to survive.

The new alcohol duty regime has a sting in the tail for pubs that no-one had foreseen and which CAMRA hopes will be rectified: as a lower rate of duty is applied on draught beer and cider sales in pubs, publicans are no longer allowed to offer such beer or cider to take away. Beer festival organisers are likewise forbidden to offer take-aways, as many festivals do to avoid pouring beer away as closing time of the event approaches.

Draught beer sales by pubs happened rarely before the Covid pandemic, but became quite normal during pubs’ enforced periods of closure when many offered two- or five-pint takeaway containers for sale. Some continued to offer takeaway sales as trading conditions returned to normal, which undoubtedly benefits customers who might still be wary about mixing, and appeals to a range of other customers too including “nominated drivers” and those who might enjoy a beer at home late at night or the next day, when they might not go out. But now, such sales are illegal.

CAMRA used the opportunity of Sunak’s visit to plead with him to protect our pubs and clubs and secure their long-term future. But how likely is that in a society where drinking alcohol is increasingly frowned upon, and the social benefits of interacting in a pub seemingly overlooked or undervalued?

The Royal Blenheim was one pub offering takeaway sales during the pandemic restrictions

With around 30 pubs closing every week, CAMRA says now is the time to act to support licensees, consumers and brewers. Chairman Nik Antona said: “Today’s new alcohol tax system recognises for the first time that drinking great beer and cider in your local is the best way to enjoy a pint, along with all the social benefits that go hand-in-hand with a visit.

“However, costs for businesses and the price of a pint at the bar are still rising. Today I urged the Prime Minister to expand the difference between the lower and general rate of duty charged on pints to keep pub-going affordable. We need the Government to do more to protect our pubs; not only are they a vital part of the UK’s long-held traditions and rich heritage, but they also provide an important social hub in our communities, which help reduce isolation and loneliness.”

CAMRA will be calling on the Chancellor to use the Autumn Statement to amend the legislation that currently prevents takeaway draught beer and cider sales, address the unfair burden placed on pubs by the business rates system, and ensure that UK brewers and cider makers aren’t frozen out the market by global producers.

Noble aspirations, to be sure, but don’t hold your breath.