News and views – March 2020

EVENTS . . .

I’m sure that all readers will join me in sending best wishes for a speedy return to business to all those pubs around the country that were affected by the recent flooding. I know that Shrewsbury and York were particularly badly affected. Let us hope that the publicans concerned get full support from their pub owning businesses and that any enforced temporary closure is not used for some sort of skulduggery.


When asked what kept him awake at night, the then Prime Minister, Sir Harold Macmillan (in office 1957 to 1963) replied ‘events, dear boy, events’. I wasn’t expecting to have to cover any Politics (capital P) in this edition when suddenly we get a change of Chancellor of the Exchequer. The new incumbent, Rishi Sunak, the MP for Richmond (Yorkshire), is known to CAMRA’s National Chairman, Nik Antona, who commented as follows, “I want to congratulate the new Chancellor on his appointment. Ahead of the Budget next month, there is a unique opportunity to unleash the potential of pubs by announcing a fundamental review of business rates and the introduction of a lower rate of duty for draught beer – which targets beer sold that is sold on tap, in pubs. We know that Rishi Sunak has been a great supporter of pubs in his constituency, carrying out a survey on issues that affect them and celebrating the George and Dragon in Hudswell, which won CAMRA’s prestigious Pub of the Year competition in 2016. I’d be more than happy to meet the Chancellor in a pub of his choosing to discuss how we can secure CAMRA’s vision for thriving community pubs in every town, city and village in the UK.


Mr Sunak’s, indeed the current Government’s, first budget came just as we were going to print. CAMRA asked its members to contact their MPs, asking them to lobby the Chancellor to include both a lower rate of duty on draught beer and to reform business rates to relieve pubs of the unfair burden placed on them by the current system. I will report on what actually happened in the next edition.


Home Secretary Priti Patel, readers might be interested to learn that before she became an MP, she worked for the public relations firm Weber Shandwick where she lobbied for the tobacco and alcohol industries, including opposing the smoking ban. She also worked for the international drinks company Diageo, owners of Guinness.


The Deputy PCA, Fiona Dickie, will succeed Paul Newby when he steps down at the beginning of May. The running of the PCA service is funded by a levy imposed on those pub owning businesses which operate more than 500 tenanted pubs, apportioned by means of a quite complicated formula. The cost for 2019/2020 has been assessed at £3 million. We still have no idea when the report on the review conducted last year will be released but these events both suggest that total abolition of the service is not on the cards.


This year marks the 243rd anniversary of William Bass founding his brewery on the High Street in Burton upon Trent. To celebrate, Ian Thurman, a native of the Capital of Brewing who writes a blog in the name of the Wicking Man, is organising a National Bass Day. It is scheduled for 11 April, Easter Saturday. Ian wants to encourage the organisation of pub crawls and similar events to promote the drinking of Draught Bass, surely one of Britain’s most famous beers, although one that has perhaps been neglected of late.

The brand is currently owned by AB InBev and the 4.4% ABV beer is brewed in Burton for them by Marston’s at their original Albion Brewery on Shobnall Road, although it is fermented in Yorkshire squares rather than the Burton Union system which is reserved for Pedigree. There are reported now to be fewer than 500 pubs selling Bass on a regular basis. There were 3,000 in 2011. Bass’s heartland remains the Midlands but there are a few pubs in London that sell it. I believe that the Express Tavern in Brentford still stocks it, as it has done for many years, but otherwise, sorry, you will need to do your own research.


The British Beer and Pub Association, the pub owning business’s trade body, has appointed Phil Whitehead, the Managing Director of Molson Coors Western Europe, as Chairman in succession to Simon Emeny of Fuller’s. Mr Whitehead has worked for Molson Coors for 14 years, joining the board in 2016.


The Automobile Association has decided that any pub that wants to appear in its annual guidebook, and thus be entitled to display its rosette symbol, will now be liable for an annual fee of £150, plus VAT. This is the first time that a fee has been levied since the AA Rosette award scheme began in 1956. Inclusion remains subject to inspection and the AA’s inspectors will still visit new pubs and if thought suitable, invite them to join the scheme.

Inspections by CAMRA’s local branches of pubs for inclusion in the 2021 Good Beer Guide are coming to an end. No fee is charged for inclusion in the GBG and should anyone call at a pub seeking money for inclusion, please do not pay them. It would be appreciated if such events could be reported to CAMRA.

Tony Hedger