A Plastic (Bag) Budget

I usually like to be jovial and upbeat when I write; I like to try and entertain and I like to be self-effacing with my humour where I can be. But today, all I can hear is the sound of a hammer, knocking another nail in to the coffin of the pub industry and recently I’ve been finding it a little difficult to raise a smile, let alone a glass.

Today’s budget, accompanied by the usual House of Commons brouhaha, showed that Alistair Darling really doesn’t have much money to play with. He mumbled on an awful lot about how things are better now than when the Conservative government was in place and how some of the financial traps the country is in are still the traps they set when they were in power. I find such comments a little upsetting and I’m disappointed to hear that after almost eleven years in power, if the Conservative policies were so awful, Labour haven’t yet found a way to fix them. He muttered statements about the environment and the poverty line and children and showed a little favour to motorists by freezing the price of petrol for a bit longer. He even offered a gratuitous incentive to new cars: from 2010, vehicles with CO2 emissions less than 130g/km will not have to pay road tax for the first year. This, of course, is a slightly pious offering because, should I wish to go and buy a more expensive car and the dealer is looking for a sale, they’ll offer to pay my road tax for me and so, at the end of the day, I won’t have to pay tax for the first year anyway.

In amongst the ramblings, the wagging of those John Tracy eyebrows and the platitudes to the Deputy Speaker, he also put 11p on a packet of cigarettes and, from Sunday night, 14p on a bottle of wine, 55p on a bottle of spirits, 3p on a litre of cider … and 4p on a pint of beer.

At first glance it might not seem like much, but it’s a rise of 13 percent – and it’s also not the figure that will be seen by the customers when it reaches the pump. By the time the breweries have factored in their own increases in trading, transport costs and taxation, and then VAT has been added, conservative estimates put the price of a pint rising by 12 to 15 pence at the till. Worst case scenarios have that figure at closer to 20p.

And that’s quite damaging for the pub trade – especially those in rural locations who are heavily dependent on their regular trade, especially during the quiet winter months. It’s a sop toward those who think that the country has a drink problem whilst simultaneously helping the Chancellor fill the void in our country’s bank accounts – but it’s also likely to backfire. As the price of beer rises, people will use public houses less. I stated yesterday some figures that show how many outlets are closing at the moment, and this increase in beer prices will do nothing to slow that trend. All that will happen is that people will drink less in public and more at home – and the Chancellor’s income will be directly affected by the reduction in on-trade sales. CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, stated today that they felt this rise would be unlikely to affect supermarket prices, but pubs as small businesses, with high business rates and high running costs, will have little choice but to pass the increase on to the consumer.

Fear not, however, because he’s also slapping a tax on plastic bags from 2009 and this means that there will be an estimated 12bn less carrier bags around for you to carry your supermarket bottle of Blue Nun home in. So hoorah for Alistair Darling, saviour of the British Pub [sic].

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