Last weekend CAMRA’s AGM voted in favour of Motion 7:
This Conference instructs the National Executive to campaign for the urgent introduction of Minimum Unit Pricing for England (with provisos on the maximum amount per unit).
Proposed by Tendring Branch
Now I’ve got several issues with this, but first of all let’s look at why it was raised. The proposers said that they had been approached by a number of publicans in their area (North Essex) requesting that CAMRA supports MUP to create a level playing field for the on-trade against the off-trade, in particular supermarkets. Nobody can argue that supermarkets sell beer cheaper than pubs can manage. However it can be argued, and proven that the supermarket deals that are often quoted by the anti-alcohol lobby just don’t exist. And the figures prove that MUP just doesn’t work.
This morning ASDA, seen as one of the cheaper main supermarkets is selling a “slab” of John Smiths bitter for £12, normal retail price of £15. So how does that stand up to MUP of 50p per Unit?
With 18x440ml cans at 3.6%, each can is 1.58 Units and would therefore have a MUP of 79p. Making the slab a minimum of £14.22.
So the sale price of £12 is £2.22 below the MUP and would therefore have to have that extra £2.22 added to it to bring it back in line. However, the normal retail price of £15 is above the MUP limit.
The *normal* retail price of a slab of beer in a supermarket is higher than the MUP that campaigners are claiming will help drive people back to pubs.
It’s not just slabs of cheap bitter though. A 500ml bottle of Hall & Woodhouse’s Tangle Foot at 5%, or 2.5 Units is £1.65. MUP would see that bottle have a minimum price of £1.25, 40p below the current “cheap” price. This beer is also on sale as part of a “4 for £6” offer. But even using that offer, and getting the beer for £1.50 a bottle, you’re still paying more than the MUP price of £1.25.
As it stands, an introduction of MUP would not see any price increases on beer in the supermarkets.
Note the “as it stands”? Because that’s very important. Once MUP has been introduced, it could very easily be raised from 50p to 60p, to £1.
Sounds unlikely? Well let’s have another look at the reasons this motion was proposed: “requesting that CAMRA supports MUP to create a level playing field for the on-trade against the off-trade.” With supermarkets selling a 500ml bottle of 5% beer for £1.50, and pubs selling roughly the same amount (a pint) at the £3.50 mark, for MUP to have any effect on levelling the cost of a drink between supermarkets and pubs, MUP would have to be raised to £1.40.
Forcing supermarkets to raise the prices they charge will do nothing more than increase their profits. Giving them greater buying power and more cash flow, which could be used to buy up more pubs to turn into stores. It’ll decrease the amount of beer that those on tighter budgets can buy, driving it more and more to become a luxury item, which in turn will force the international corporations to look elsewhere for their profits, speeding up their current process of buying up or tying up pubs, reducing drinkers choice.
MUP is fundamentally flawed in and of itself, and shouldn’t even be considered as a way to help support pubs.
Which brings us to the second part of this piece, you can’t equate cost with value.
We keep getting told, rightly, that a pub is far more than a place to buy beer. Pubs are the heart and the soul of the community. They’re a place to meet friends, a place to relax, a place for company to stop loneliness. Buying beer in a pub should mean that you’re walked through what’s on offer, that advice and guidance is there to help you choose, or to recognise the regular drinker and have their drink waiting for them with a smile and a nod. You’re not buying beer in a pub, you’re being served beer. That’s the added value to drinking in a pub compared to buying a slab pack from the supermarket.
And that value costs money. Comparing supermarket prices to that of a pint over the bar doesn’t take value into account. You stop valuing the pub, just the beer. If you want to save pubs, and you want more people to enjoy them, you have to start valuing the pub again, not just the pint.