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15th February 2012

Official SIBA response to David Cameron’s pronouncements about binge culture

In the light of today’s statement by the Prime Minister, the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) welcomes any serious commitment to tackle problems associated with binge drinking and street drunkenness and the consequent costs borne by the NHS and society in general.

But we are never impressed by “superficial soundbite politics”. Mr Cameron leads an administration that continues to implement policies introduced by the last Government that are themselves significant contributors to the problems that he has today avowed to crack down on.

British beer and British pubs are part of the very fabric of British community and social cohesion. Responsible and moderated  consumption in well-run community pubs – the way many of us (including the Prime Minister) learnt to enjoy a social drink in relaxed and convivial surroundings – is the antidote to unsupervised and profligate bad behaviour in public.

The drunken hordes are on the streets courtesy of government taxation policies that keep them out of good pubs and encourage them to “pre-load” on cheap supermarket spirits and strong cider before they hit the town. The Great British pub tradition is being taxed out of existence by a “duty escalator”, which has raised beer duty by 35% since 2008 and is due to be applied yet again in the forthcoming Budget.

Meaningful and effective action should include:

abolishing the beer duty escalator and freezing beer duty

a genuine ban on below-cost selling of alcohol that takes account of all the costs that make up the price paid by supermarkets, rather than just the taxes levied on production and sale

a move towards excise duty structures designed to encourage the responsible  consumption of lower strength drinks

If high duty were the solution, surely the fact that UK beer drinkers now contribute 40% of total EU beer duty revenue would make us the best behaved nation in Europe by far. Germans drink twice as much beer but pay only 5% of the total duty raised.  Where are their problems?

Along with colleagues in the wider beer and pub industries, SIBA believes that more can be done with UK alcohol duty to stimulate a meaningful reduction in alcohol units consumed and increase Government revenue without punishing responsible drinkers. We have been sharing our views with Government and hope the new UK Alcohol Strategy will start to address this.