Real Ale Politics

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In the past 20 years, Sheffield, the former “Steel City” has forged itself a new industry and cultural status as “The Beer Capital of the UK.” It is the only city in Sheffield to have been awarded the CAMRA National Pub of the Year two years in a row (The Kelham Island Tavern). Being a part of the Sheffield Real Ale Society is therefore quite an honour.

The Real Ale Society recently contacted Paul Blomfield, MP for Sheffield Central, to see if he would be interested in helping the Real Ale Society to promote the importance of real ale in Sheffield. Within his constituency alone there are over 200 pubs and 10 different breweries. To our surprise Mr Blomfield swiftly responded, indicating he was more than happy to brew a beer with a Sheffield brewery.

The end game we were planning for was for the beer that we were to brew to go into the Strangers Bar in the Houses of Parliament, to showcase to the Capital of the Country the best of the Beer Capital of the UK. As a society we suggested the Blue Bee brewery, the newest brewery at Sheffield, as a sign of solidarity with small independent businesses. Micro – Breweries such as Blue Bee have bucked the national trend by thriving in spite of the recession.

The occasion was a great way to publicise the fact we are a decent, sensible society. After an article at the end of the last academic year by Forge Press linked us to the Student Binge drinking culture, we set out to disprove the theory, and show that students can cherish a decent drink and not use it as just a way to get drunk. If you google “Student Drinking” the results do not make good reading. Albeit in a small way, we have tried to change this, as it was appearing Students would rather attack themselves, rather than working to disprove media stereotypes.

Nationally, the Campaign for Real Ale has launched an e-petition for the scrapping of the beer duty escalator which recently reached the 100k signature mark, allowing a discussion in the House of Commons. The Beer Duty Escalator, original devised by the Labour government, means that every year the tax on beer goes up 2% above inflation. The way this is implemented also means that every year the Chancellor can announce “there is no increase in beer duty” because the system has not be changed, despite there clearly being an increase.

At this level, roughly £1 of every pint you purchase goes to the government in tax. As time goes on, the cost of pint is going to dramatically increase to the point where people cannot afford to go drinking. In turn, pubs will be forced to close. The latest CAMRA statistic suggests that 18 pubs a week close in Britain, and that this trend is on the rise again. This is a serious issue that few pub patrons will be aware of when purchasing their beer.

There is one saving grace for small breweries like The Blue Bee – The Progressive Beer Duty. PBD is a German concept allowing smaller ‘micro-breweries’ to pay less tax on the same amount of beer compared to a much larger brewery for the same output. Obviously this is a large boost to the microbreweries, and those wishing to set up new breweries. The worry is that if the government remove the Beer Duty escalator that they could also scrap PBD, which would allow them to collect more money from the smaller independent microbreweries essentially making up from the loss of revenue made from the escalator, if that were to be scrapped.