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Morning Briefing Strap Line
Fri 5th Jan 2018 - Friday Opinion
Subjects: Best Bar None chairman challenges 'unfair burdens on licensed trade', There’s A Beer For That’s new strategy is missing target, and a sense of balance and perspective
Authors: Dan Davies, Glynn Davis and Ann Elliott

Best Bar None chairman challenges 'unfair burdens on licensed trade' by Dan Davies

On 20 December 2017, the members of the House of Lords select committee on the post-legislative review of the Licensing Act 2003 debated the government’s response to its recommendations. Many of the topics covered were on matters the government has already agreed, including the rejection of promotion of health as a licensing objective and the introduction of more training for councillors and police, and the “wait and see” approach to minimum unit pricing and licensing laws in airports, for example.

There were some striking contributions, however. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Lord Smith of Hindhead CBE, chairman of Best Bar None, made some of the hardest-hitting criticisms of what he described as “unfair” burdens on the licensed trade. He pulled no punches when he observed: “The Licensing Act 2003 was created before Google, Facebook or online shopping, and is increasingly looking like a cheque book in an online world, with too much emphasis and regulatory liability on the on-trade compared with the off-trade.”
 
Lord Smith challenged the government’s dogged commitment to late night levies and early morning alcohol restriction orders (EMROs), describing the measures as unfair and unpopular. He was supported by fellow peers, Baronesses Eaton and Henig, who agreed the burdens outweighed the benefits. This is clearly a topic that will not go away, when, as he pointed out, only nine of the 350 local authorities have introduced a late night levy since 2011, and none have touched an EMRO.
 
If the government was not ready to make concessions on late night levies and EMROs, there was a surprise concession in response to Lord Smith’s next concern, which was on the fee multiplier. In response to his issues as to why this additional form of taxation was imposed on the on-trade but not, for example, supermarkets, the minister stated: “My noble friend Lord Smith of Hindhead talked about the multiplier. The fee multiplier is applied to premises that predominantly or solely sell alcohol in high volumes. These are often referred to as vertical drinking bars and make up a very small percentage of premises subject to a licensing fee. The high fee reflects the high volumes of alcohol sold in the night-time economy.”
 
This is not an approach that many licensees will recognise from their own licensing authorities, which routinely use Valuation Office Agency categories, or turnover or profit figures, or even Facebook pages to attempt to calculate whether premises are “exclusively and primarily” concerned with alcohol. This was a welcome and important clarification from the debate.
 
Other topics may need to wait longer to see fruition, but still represent quite a radical development from the House of Lords report, notably on the reform of the appeals system. Lord Smith said the appeals system had “stuck out like a sore thumb from the evidence we heard –that the current appeals system is not working as it should in an industry that is so important to the UK economy”.
 
His approach was an advance on the Lords’ committee report – necessarily so since the government had rejected the prospect of transferring licensing committee functions to planning committees. That made the transfer of licensing appeals to the planning inspectorate otiose, but Lord Smith highlighted the elements of the planning appeal system the committee had found attractive in the first place: “In my view, the beneficial elements of our recommended changes to the current appeals system were having an expert decision-maker experienced in the field; flexibility and choice of procedure, not necessarily a full re-hearing but possibly an appeal on the papers where appropriate; a dedicated tribunal not competing with a criminal list of cases to get through; decisions as precedents; and time efficiency.”
 
The chair of the committee, Lady McIntosh, approved this development, saying the committee could not understand how a magistrate, who is no longer considered by the government to be the right person to consider a licensing application, should nevertheless be the right person to hear an appeal. She commended to the minister the committee’s idea that appeals should go to the appropriate court, as it does for gambling – appeals against the Gambling Commission now go to the First-tier Tribunal and thence on a point of law to the Upper Tribunal. And she also highlighted the evidence had indicated the scope and potential for mediation in the licensing appeal system and she welcomed the government’s acceptance of increased mediation.
 
The response of the minister Baroness Williams of Trafford was interesting. She said although there was no intention to change the appeal system “at present”, the government accepted the committee’s findings “the licensing appeals system could be improved and we are aware that some local areas find the system unwieldy and prone to delay. We will explore with partners whether there is good practice in the existing regime and similar regimes that might offer some ideas for consideration”.
 
This certainly signals change, and could be read as an indication there is appetite in government for a more fundamental reform of the appeals system. The evidence presented to the committee would tend to confirm this would be universally welcome, and this is clearly a headline topic in licensing for 2018, and an area to watch closely.
Dan Davies is chairman of The Institute of Licensing and chief executive of CPL Training
 

There’s A Beer For That’s new strategy is missing the target by Glynn Davis

There’s A Beer For That describes itself as a cross-industry group of brewers, pub companies and beer organisations working together for the good of beer in Britain. It sounds a good idea but I’ve always had my reservations about the effectiveness of these coming-together groupings. 
 
There is never likely to be a universal consensus when you have disparate members of a group. And this one is certainly diverse with its membership. At one end you have some of the world’s largest brewers – including Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), Heineken and Carlsberg – and at the other extremity you have some of the smallest operators in the UK, which are so tiny I’ve never heard of them.
 
I’ve no idea what the financial contributions are to the initiative but clearly the big guns will be putting a lot more cash into the coffers than the small fry. As such they should have more of a say about how the body positions itself and where it targets its funds and pitches its activities.
 
It does not take a brain surgeon to work out the objectives of the member organisations will be very different. If you caught a senior director at AB InBev off guard after a few too many beers then they would probably admit to preferring craft brewers did not exist. These upstarts have rocked the boat far too much for the established players.
 
Yes, there will always be the argument such a body’s efforts – in this case to raise the tide of beer drinking – will lift all boats if successful. This is certainly laudable and undoubtedly is the key aim of the group. However, I suspect things have changed somewhat judging by the shift in the stance of There’s A Beer For That.
 
The original focus was on targeting the 18 to 55-year-old age grouping and enticing it into drinking beer rather than other forms of alcohol. This wide spread of ages would certainly encompass the target audience of every brewer and pub operator in the land – big or small. But this objective has changed and the body has repositioned itself to now go for just the 35 to 50-year-olds. It has effectively abandoned the 18 to 34-year-old grouping.
 
Apparently this group is simply too difficult to get any messages out to. These people instead prefer to drink coffee because it is cheap. They also don’t really have much disposable income. So says a senior party from There’s A Beer For That. I don’t really know where to begin with dismantling these arguments.
 
For starters, I find coffee pretty expensive – with its gloriously juicy margins for operators – and I don’t think we can really argue the younger demographic does not have sufficient money to have a good time. This is absolutely not the case in my experience.
 
And as for the body’s message not hitting home with younger people? I suspect this is because it is probably not the right one. This younger group is not interested in the big brands. We all know that 18 to 34-year-olds find the craft beer brands the most attractive. But to only promote the craftier end of the market would not be a great one for There’s A Beer For That’s key funders.
 
This is why the body has taken the sensible option to be brand agnostic. It therefore doesn’t promote either camp – neither the big brewers nor the small ones. This all-encompassing approach sounds good in practice but it simply doesn’t work – as proven by the fact the youngsters don’t get it!
 
Has anybody thought of introducing some segmentation into the process? That way all camps would surely be happy. The cool craft brands could be promoted to the millennials while the big brands could be pushed out to the older consumers. Something tells me this would not go down very well at all with the big brewers.
 
Having therefore ditched the 18 to 34-year-old drinkers (let’s call them the future), There’s A Beer For That has chosen to instead focus on the discerning drinkers in the 35 to 50 age group who might well have progressed to drinking wine after their earlier beer drinking days. The objective is to get them to switch from drinking their wine and spirits when eating and instead match beers with their food.
 
The problem here is most people in this grouping will be stuck in their ways and moving back to consuming beer with their meals will be a retrograde step now they are more into their merlot and prosecco. And also, to my knowledge, it continues to be a tough challenge to achieve mainstream acceptance of consuming beer with food at the expense of wine.
 
The real hope for this approach is with the younger age group because these people fully understand the concept of matching beers with foods. Unfortunately, they are no longer the target group for There’s A Beer For That. Although I disagree with the organisation’s current strategy I think we both agree the 18 to 34-year-olds are the future and so There’s A Beer For That must work out exactly what is the point of the exercise.
Glynn Davis is a leading commentator on retail trends
 

A sense of balance and perspective by Ann Elliott

He will probably be horrified to read his name in this piece but Elton Mouna has just posted a list of his ups and downs and “should have”/“shouldn’t have” moments of 2017 on his Facebook page. It’s a brilliant read and a relevant reminder of how important it is to have balance and perspective in our busy and stressed lives. It was a post that made me sit back and reflect on what I had written as my own objectives for the year ahead – and to change them.
 
In his list (and I do hope he doesn’t mind me sharing a few of them) he included the following:
“Positive people were a really positive influence on me. I met several.”
“I met some brilliant young business entrepreneurs that made me think differently.”
“I made several good decisions.”
 
Elton is a modest and charming man. I just love this approach. He is also a very humorous writer with a lovely humble style. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and is open about his failings and/or weaknesses. I would like to have cut and paste his Facebook post here but at 845 words I couldn’t – see if you can be his friend instead.
 
If you don’t know him, Elton is the managing director of Remarkable Pubs (“a collection of quirky, predominately freehold, character filled, wonderful London pubs”) and says on LinkedIn: “Professionally my role as managing director of Remarkable quite simply involves developing people to help them get the very best from their businesses; obtain the best possible terms of supply and stand shoulder to shoulder with our chairman and HQ team as we endeavour to deliver growth.” It’s very straightforward and very self-deprecating. 

Reading his list made me think how very easy it is at the moment to be down about the prospects of the sector and to worry massively about costs, supply chain, government legislation, team recruitment etc. These worries can paralyse creativity, proactivity, decision-making and risk taking. They can make some leaders lose perspective – to worry so much they would rather do nothing rather than something.
 
There are many, though, who do have the same sort of attitude as Elton. They see the positives for what they are and they don’t get hung up on what they didn’t do or didn’t achieve. They get up, get on and make things happen – often quietly. They don’t seek personal recognition and are relentless about ensuring their teams take the credit for success. They still take risks. And they have fun and they laugh (often at themselves). They enjoy life and their spirit of positivity and optimism conveys itself to their teams.
 
I think this sector is rammed full of people like Elton – people who are building businesses, creating success and doing so with a smile, humour and a sense of balance and perspective. They continue to buy sites, to create new brands and to open new outlets. In this group, alongside Elton, I would include James Birch, at Heartstone Inns; Martin Wolstencroft, at Arc Inspirations; Chris Hill, at New World Trading Company; James Nye, at Anglian Country Inns; Chris Potts, at The Alchemist; Roger Payne, at Camden Dining; David Bruce, at West Berkshire Brewing Company; Marc Francis-Baum, at Barworks; Steve Wilkins, at Little Gems; and Kevin Charity, at Coaching Inn Group. I could go on and on.
 
Elton’s post made me stop and reflect and to be thankful I work in such a great industry blessed with such amazing people. Happy 2018. You deserve it.
Ann Elliott is chief executive of Elliotts, the leading integrated marketing agency in the hospitality and leisure sector – www.elliottsagency.com. Follow her on Twitter: @elliottsagency

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