Tom Davies, Brakspear chief executive, says that current levels of beer tax are disastrous and calls for campaigns to force a debate in Parliament
Few in the pub industry were surprised by last week's Budget - though that doesn't mean we're not also disappointed, frustrated and downright angry about it. The announcement two days later on minimum unit pricing for alcohol will, we hope, start to rebalance the price of beer in the on- and off-trade, and we look forward to hearing further details on this policy from the Government.
In February, Brakspear staged a Tax Free Beer Day in 10 of our pubs in Henley-on-Thames, selling beer at £1.30 less than its usual price - this being the amount of tax paid on a pint costing £3.10 in the pub.
Witnessing the reaction of customers in our pubs that day, it was clear that the high level of taxation on beer was a real shock to most of them. Unsurprisingly, they were keen to enjoy "tax free" beer - sales in our pubs doubled that day and several of our tenants spoke of groups of customers who had travelled into Henley especially to benefit from the lower prices.
Tax Free Beer Day caught the attention, not just of drinkers, but of the local and national media, giving us a great platform to take our message to a wider audience. In radio interviews, I talked about what I saw as the two main, disastrous outcomes of the current punitive levels of beer taxation.
First, they are driving people out of the safe, supervised environment of the pub, to drinking either at home or, frequently, in the street or local park. This seems to be completely at odds with the Government's stated aim of reducing alcohol-related harm.
Second, they are leading to pub closures, which means the loss of jobs in that pub and in the local community around it. Pubs employ a high proportion of young people - in Oxfordshire, where Brakspear is based, about half of those working in pubs are aged 18 to 24. At a time of high youth unemployment, why is the Government not making efforts to protect jobs in our industry, rather than hastening their demise?
If Brakspear can create this level of interest and support on just one day, in one town, what could be achieved if other brewers and pub companies joined us by running their own campaigns? We could certainly raise the 100,000 signatures needed for a debate on beer tax in Parliament, which would be a great result for pubs and pubgoers.