It is estimated that one in every eight pints drunk in Britain is brewed in Burton. Four miles down the Trent at the 250 year old Royal Oak pub in the pretty village of Barton-under-Needwood the fire was roaring and foaming glasses of Marston Pedigree were going down a treat with locals as was news of the Chancellor’s penny off beer.
Also slipping down nicely was news that the dreaded alcohol escalator tax would be scrapped – at least on the brewing town’s most famous export. It is the first time that duty on beer has been cut since 1959 although three quarters of a typical £3.50 pint will still go to the Treasury.
Campaigners have long blamed the annual price rises for contributing to the destruction of Britain’s local pub culture with the loss of 10,000 hostelries in the past decade. But the Royal Oak, a current Campaign for Real Ale pub of the year, was thriving.
Placing his empty glass back on the table, retired health worker Alan Rogers, 60, believed George Osborne could be on to something. “I support a local pub as an element of society and I would far rather visit a traditional pub rather than go and buy very cheap stuff from a local supermarket so anything that reduces that differential is a benefit for society,” he said.
His wine-drinking wife Jane Rogers, 60, a retired hospital technician, however was all together less enamoured by the Tory Chancellor and not just for the fact he had not included her favourite tipple in his Budget giveaway. “The man is an idiot. I don’t think he has any conception of the problems faced by the lower paid, those on benefits or the disabled. He is just not in touch with reality,” she said.
Solicitor Jonathan Cunningham, 45, said he also had other matters on his mind – not least the Coalition’s plans to reform Legal Aid. The price of a pint was quite literally small beer, he said. “It won’t make the slightest bit of difference. We have much more important things to concentrate on rather than a penny on a pint,” he added.
Mick Davis, 56, a semi-retired financial adviser, agreed. “Tinkering around with a penny here and a penny there won’t change our habits in any way. If it was 50p that might make a difference,” he said.
But there was some encouragement. “There’s nobody else to vote for. No one in their right mind would vote Labour or Liberal,” said David Walton, 71, retired IT worker. Jane George, 55, a secondary school teacher meanwhile felt there was still room for improvement: “It’s a start. But it won’t necessarily make me vote for him. He will have to do a lot more than that before I would think about,” she said.
Brian Copestake, 52, who supplies the brewing industry with cereals, felt the Government had missed an opportunity last week to redress the unfair balance between pubs and supermarkets by scrapping plans for minimum alcohol pricing last week. “For a long time the price in the pub has gone up whilst the supermarket price has gone down. When you drive through Burton every other pub is shut down. They should have put up the minimum price of alcohol,” he said.
Landlord Stephen Boulter, 53, who has been the licensee for seven years along with his wife Katy, 39, said while welcome, it was still not clear if the money would filter into the coffers of hard-pressed publicans. “We are hoping with the Government scrapping this tax that the breweries don’t think this s a good opportunity to put the beer up. Normally the escalator tax will come in and the brewery put it up too. This is what we are expecting,” he said
Brian Mole, 50, a businessman, was propping up the bar with his mates enjoying an early evening drink. “I have voted Conservative all his life and I see no reason to change. I’m quite happy with the way things are going. It’s just taking a little longer than we thought but we will get there. We could do with people smiling a little bit more – perhaps cheaper beer could help that,” he said.