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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         Phil's Diary August 20, 2009



A light (ale) at the end of the tunnel

After editing The Publicanís Market Report for the past 11 years it made a nice change this week to be able to browse through the 2009 version without getting nauseous flashbacks to the long, gruelling process of analysing all those raw stats and putting it all together. For the first time I could actually bear to look at the finished product.

Of course, on the face of it the survey makes grim reading. Overall these are tough times for pubs. But there were a few shafts of light piercing the gloom. Business is up in more than a third of pubs, for instance. And itís a good bet those pubs are serving a decent pint of beer.

Cask ale, bless it, has had a very good year, and according to Market Reportís rating method its sales growth is now second only to wine (which has always been top) and it has leapfrogged bottled cider, soft drinks and hot beverages.

This is encouraging for pubs for at least a couple of reasons. You canít buy cask beer from the supermarket. It is the pubís one great USP. And you canít sell cask beer unless you have attained a certain level of skill and care in keeping and serving a good pint.

Cask, in fact, is frequently a touchstone for the quality of the whole pub. If the licensee can be arsed to do it properly, he or she can probably be arsed to do most things properly. And that, in turn, is the key to coming through these difficult times with a business, and a thriving pub, at the end of it.


Homeless, not hopeless

Yesterday, workers at Brighton Housing Trust (BHT), a charity which looks after homeless people, went on strike against a cut in their already meagre pay. Why does this matter for the pub industry?

There is a struggle going on over how we, as a society, deal with alcohol problems (and, indeed, how those problems are perceived). The arguments for the mandatory code and minimum pricing, for restricting access to alcohol, are arguments for somehow preventing people drinking too much. The danger is that this strategy is counterposed to helping individuals who already have serious alcohol problems, to extricating them from the whole tangle of problems that has got them into the sorry state theyíre in.

Homelessness is often a key strand in that tangle. Get someone housed and they can get a job and start feeling better about themselves. It may not stop them drinking but without giving them the basics of a human existence theyíve got no chance.

BHT staff are warning that cuts in the service they provide will make it harder for them to support homeless people, and the worry is that this is only the beginning of a broad attack on a voluntary sector thatís vital in combating really existing alcohol problems.

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