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Call for tough action on pubco reform

Added: Monday, April 28th 2014

Clin Valentine

Anger at the slowness of pubco reform spilled over at the Campaign for Real Ale’s annual conference in Scarborough at the weekend when a motion – carried against the wishes of the ruling National Executive – called for more radical action by CAMRA, underscored by a demand for a new post of Pubco National Campaign Officer.

The motion by David Howell from the Potteries branch said that “following the parliamentary debate of 12 January, the pubco campaign is stalled.” It called on the executive to adopt “a more radical approach as a matter of urgency against those pubcos that indulge in unacceptable and unfair business practices.”

It added that CAMRA should set up an activist campaign with a dedicated Pubco National Campaign Officer.

Julian Hough, opposing the motion for the National Executive, argued that progress was being made. He said the campaign had had meetings with members of the government, including Business Secretary Vince Cable.

But speakers from the floor said Dr Cable’s promised report on the pub companies and proposals for reform had been endlessly delayed. There was still no timetable for the report and its proposals to be implemented.

In the mean time, such giant companies as Enterprise and Punch continued to ratchet up rents for their tenants and lessees and sell off many pubs to property speculators, betting shop owners and supermarkets.

In their keynote speeches to the conference, chief executive Mike Benner (below) and national chairman Colin Valentine (above) stressed the great strides CAMRA campaigning had made in recent years. Membership was now more than 160,000 – up from 60,000 in 2001 ---and continues to grow. Mike Benner said cask beer was the only success in a declining beer market and CAMRA beer festivals acted as both shop windows for real ale and were a major source of new members.

Both he and Colin Valentine underscored the important victories achieved on the scrapping of the beer duty escalator and the cut in duty in two successive budgets. Mike Benner said that but for the duty cuts – the first by a government since the 1950s -- and the ending of the escalator, the price of a pint of beer would have risen by around 20 pence.

Colin Valentine said there were more than 300 pubs in Britain listed as ACVs – Assets of Community Value. The listings stop the closure and sale of pubs while a six-month breathing space gives campaigners the chance to stop closures and attempt to run pubs on a community level. He also expressed concern at the delay by Vince Cable’s department in bringing forward proposals for pubco reform.

Mike Benner was given a warm ovation as he stands down after 10 years as CAMRA chief executive. He will take up a new role as managing director of SIBA, the Society of Independent Brewers, in June. The conference gave a prolonged standing ovation to Julian Hough who has had to stand down from the National Executive after eight years as a result of cancer.

A motion expressing concern at an “increasing tendency” for some cask ales to be served hazy or cloudy was defeated. Roger Protz said this was a motion against innovation and creativity. “We’ve broken the mould of mild and bitter,” he said. “Brewers are creating beers – sour beers, wheat beers, beers made with fruit, coffee and chocolate – that are attracting new younger drinkers”.

A call by the Westmorland branch to increase pub entries in the Good Beer Guide from 4,500 to 5,000 was defeated. Dave Goodwin for CAMRA Books, the campaign’s publishing arm, said the guide should be about quality rather quantity”. The conference also agreed to remove Republic of Ireland breweries from the guide on the grounds of space but CAMRA Books promised to look at the viability of a separate Irish beer guide that would be produced with Beoir, the Irish beer drinkers’ organisation.

Geoff Strawbridge and Tony Morgan successfuly moved a motion to remove all mentions of CAMRA discounts and other membership benefits from pub descriptions in the Good Beer Guide.

*Photos by Kim Adams.

Mike Benner