Monday, 22 March 2010

New Beer Orders Beckon


Statutory Instrument 1989 No. 2390

The Supply of Beer (Tied Estate) Order 1989


Well they asked for it, sat up and begged for it practically.
If reading the runes was an Olympic Sport, the PubCos and the BBPA wouldn't qualify for the finals, wouldn't even be allowed to run. They were on borrowed time and they couldn't really believe it, despite all the indications that in the highest circles, the Government was fed up of them. Fed up to the back teeth.

On Friday the Pubs Minister, John Healey announced he was implementing a package of proposals to help struggling pubs, given that closures are running at around 39 a week. These are mainly practical and sensible, treating the pub industry as something that has to have structured help to get it through the lean times. They include business support, a fund for communities to take over pubs, relaxation of live music restrictions and help with industry skills and training. All good stuff, but dull, though as predicted in many quarters, the Government wants the Industry Code of Practice following the Commons Select Committee Report on the PubCos which should ensure transparency and openness in setting contracts and leases, to be implemented in full within one year, or the Code will be put on a statutory basis backed by an industry enforcer if the industry fails to deliver. That's pretty severe for them.

It gets a bit more lively after that: "We will push the industry further to offer freedoms for tenants to offer consumer choice as part of their Code of Practice. The code of practice should:

* offer tenants a tie/non tie option to enable them to best reflect the needs of the community.
* offer a guest beer option for those tenants that opt for a beer tie.

The Minister then says "We will also make clear that Government will monitor progress for one year and intervene to introduce a non-tie option and legislate for a Beer Order to allow guest beers if these flexibilities are not introduced." And to really put the boot in, the Government will ask industry to ensure that the hated Brulines flow measurement equipment is calibrated by the National Weights and Measurement Laboratory, with the backstop that failure to do so, will result in Government prescribing the equipment to ensure fairness.

So, yes, you did read that right. A guest beer provision for tied tenants and in a further sting in the tail, the Minister says it will apply to all tenants, Family Brewers included. (CAMRA, which is influential within Government, is already signalling that companies with less than a 1% market share should be exempt.)

Of course with a change of Government possible, it may never happen, except it seems all parties are agreed that it should. No-one can feel sorry for the bloated PubCos. They have asked for it, as has their apologist the BBPA and while it may be a year away, we may be in for upheaval, the likes of which have not been seen since the last Beer Orders brought about the current mess and unlike the last Beer Orders, this seems to have a clear purpose, little wriggle room and the support of all political parties. Lessons have been learned and the law of unintended consequences taken into account.

In his blog, the Pub Curmudgeon also discusses this, though he takes a different view to me. I think he is wrong and the proposals are meaningful. While he may harp on about the smoking ban, "we", as my old boss used to say, "are where we are" and something must be done.

Tax increases and smoking bans notwithstanding, there is change afoot and hopefully it will be change for the better.

23 comments:

Tyson said...

I think you make some good points. But then I also think the Pub Curmudgeon makes some good points. Thee's only one way to settle this...

Tandleman said...

A smoke off?

Cooking Lager said...

Looking at these laws, the most interest comments will be those that pertain to the law of unintended consequences. No good deed ever goes unpunished. The guest beer could easily be a lovely lout, for instance, and much of the tied estate pubs of the UK are not big evil property pub companies but small regional brewers that kept cask ale alive well before the emergence of micro brewers. In banging on about the smoking ban, Mudgies is missing the point. Judge these laws on their merits or otherwise. The absence of a repeal of the sacred cow of smoking bifters in pubs is neither here nor there.

Tandleman said...

The law of unintended consequences is always the worry in these things.

RedNev said...

You've analysed this rather more closely than I have, by the looks of it (I did a posting on my blog straight after getting the e-mail from CAMRA), but I too feel this is good news. As an amateur musician, I also welcome the proposal to liberalise the licensing of live music.

I read in What's Brewing recently Roger Protz pointing out that the unintended consquences of the old Beer Orders were actually anticipated in a minority report to the one that was eventually adopted. Someone realised, but was ignored.

"We are where we are" ~ like it or not.

StringersBeer said...

Thatcher's brats just can't believe that elected politicians would dare intervene in a frank market failure.
In an election year? With pubcos (i.e. banks - how we love'em) perceived to be closing the iconic British pub? and shafting plucky small businesses? Well, duh.

Those who recommend inaction on the grounds that there may be some unintended (possibly bad) consequences are trotting out such a lame, defeatist and trite argument that to call it a a "law" is just laughable.

Besides, talk of the old Beer Orders is a clear red herring - this is about transparent and open agreements, oh, and a guest beer provision - nothing to do with the size of the brewers' (or pubco's) estates. Is it?

Coxy said...

I was working in the free trade for Whitbread when the beer orders came in last time, we didn't think it would have much affect! Now Bass and Whitbread are gone mainly due the restrictions to expansion and the need to sell pubs. So I can't guess what this will do.
I do believe the pub being the heart of the community argument is a load of bollox, it is for the 100 or so people who go in to community pubs but what of the others, The Churches were the community and no one is moaning about them closing at a rate of knots.
CAMRA can never speak for the masses as its too male orientated and I suspect has a menbership age average over 40. Got to go now my teas ready.

John Clarke said...

The guest beer provision was about the only really successful part of the old beer orders so think its resurrection is something to celebrate. I aslo see that the Statement refers to locally brewed ales in the context of the guest beers so with luck what will and won't qualify will be reasonably well defined and we will be spared the horrors of guest cooking lager.

RedNev said...

"CAMRA can never speak for the masses". Correct ~ it's not meant to. It speaks for its 111,934 members.

Coxy said...

Thing is, Im a member , and Im not sure it speaks for me .

John Clarke said...

Err, then why are you a member?

Coxy said...

Direct debit , always a clever tool. Does get me a discount at Beer festivals and Bree Louise though.
Also you can't have a good moan about something unless you've read it can you! Thats why I also occasionally read the Daily Mail ( Dailly Your all Doomed)

Karen and Mark said...

Would liked to have seen the guest beer proposal applied to ciders too, but then I would wouldn't I!

Seems to be good news, but I can't help thinking that a major reason for the timing of this proposal is as a sweetener for a massive tax rise in the forthcoming budget. We shall see....

Gazza Prescott said...

I'm all for guest beers in every pub that wants 'em, including regional brewers. Why should they be exempt?

If this actually does happen it might give me something to drink if I have to go into one of their pubs rather than their hop-less slops I have to suffer now...

Tandleman said...

Of course the brewers you are talking about don't have you as a target customer, so I doubt if they'll do it just for you.

And since you probably don't go and drink in them anyway, you probably aren't suffering that much.

On the more general point of a guest beer in smaller brewers tied estates, I like the principle of it, but it would have some potentially damaging effects in practice.

And potentially some good effects too.

Cooking Lager said...

Any law that favours a local or regional beer will break EU law in regard to the provision and movement of goods. Likewise any law that favours a form of beer condition (i.e. cask) that is obviously a regional quirk of a single EU state, is also defacto illegal for restriction of trade and the free movement of goods.

Guest cooking lager it is then, Clarkey.

StringersBeer said...

I'm not a lawyer, and I don't play one on the inter-nets, but what about "Kellerbier" Cookie?

Tandleman said...

Don't think the Cookster is interpreting the law correctly here.

What about Kellerbier?

StringersBeer said...

I don't know much about German beer, but wasn't Kellerbier (are they still?) cask-conditioned? Meaning it's not a "quirk" restricted to one state?

Tandleman said...

Get it now.

Tyson said...

I'm surprised at you Cookie. A little knowledge is dangerous and people tend to (mis)quote the Treaty of Rome a little too often. In my view this ignorance stems from having friends and staying out of pubs.

However, imagine you had no friends and spent all night alone in dark, smelly pubs drinking pongy beer. Nothing to do but read EU directives...

For the record: Article 85(3) of the EC Treaty allows for so called "block exemptions" to the treaty. You'll find these spread all over the EU, btw. The brewing industry was granted such an exemption under Regulation 1984/83 until 31.12.97 when it was subsequently renewed. Any new legislation would simplyy take advantage of this "loophole".

John Clarke said...

Quite right Tyson, Despite Cookie boy putting his pseudo sensible head on for this one, he is talking bollocks. After all let's not forget that the cask-only guest beer right introduced under the old Beer Orders existed quite happily alongside EU law from 1989 until it was abolished in 2003 (and this was despite a challenge, I recall, from a UK importer of lager who was aggrieved that he could not take advantage of the guest beer provision to sell his products).

Paul Garrard said...

I hope these measures do some good. I am keeping an open mind.