Friday 14 December 2018

Christmas rant

Well, 2018 has been a tumultuous year by any standards. For the hospitality industry, I can’t remember a time when the threats and uncertainties were so formidable. As well as business rates, minimum wage hikes and a looming huge increase in fees from the PPL/PRS legalised protection racket, we have the huge uncertainties of Brexit and its impact on recruitment and staff shortages. Then there is the ever-present agitation from that other racket – so-called “public health”.

Regarding Brexit, I’m a libertarian by instinct as much as intellectual conviction but even I can see sometimes the sheep need a shepherd. If Mrs May’s deal falls, at the risk of being howled down by a demented mob shouting “it’s the will of the people”, I think Parliament needs to reassert its sovereignty and move an amendment to revoke Article 50. 

This Brexit madness has gone on far too long and it needs to stop. Indeed, if our elected representatives hadn’t abdicated responsibility and taken this decision themselves in the first place, we wouldn’t be in this position. Brexit on any analysis will have a hugely negative impact on the hospitality industry.

As far as copyright organisations are concerned, I’ve written about their antics before and I think it’s time the government reviewed intellectual property law and reconsidered at what point the repeated playing of a piece of music, with all the marketing benefits that has to the performer, publisher and record company, mean it is now in the public domain and the copyright owner can’t go on rent-seeking from it forever. 

Copyright organisations have gone beyond musical performances and we’ve now seen the development of the Motion Picture Licensing Company, which collects fees in relation to TV and movie broadcasts in licensed premises and hotels. The copyright racket is a classic Del Boy-type wheeze, using the law to exact a rent without adding economic value – it’s a case of rinse and repeat – the licensed trade is a big cake and everyone wants a slice.

 Where do I start with the public health racket? Its most emblematic policy, minimum unit pricing (MUP), came into force in Scotland in May and is already unravelling. Despite a 10% increase in alcohol prices across the board, we’ve seen a 15% increase in the value of alcohol sales in Scotland during the first six months of this policy. In volume terms, a 4% increase in the consumption of pure ethyl alcohol in the off-trade. Remember, MUP was meant to reduce consumption in its first year by 3.5% across the whole population and by 7% among problem drinkers?

Now the swivel-eyed temperance fanatics at Alcohol Focus Scotland and Sheffield Alcohol Research Group are saying while consumption may have gone up in Scotland it hasn’t risen as much as it has in England, where we don’t have MUP. So when they said consumption would go down, they really meant it would go up – just not as fast as elsewhere! 

You can almost hear the sound of goalposts being moved and ridiculous excuses being made – “the hot summer or the World Cup made Scots drink more”. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Scotland didn’t feature in the World Cup finals so are we supposed to believe Scots were knocking back more Buckfast while loudly proclaiming their support for the England team? Wouldn’t that be nice?!

I mustn’t leave out the sugar loons. The mass reformulation of our food supply at the behest of a public health lobby that sees business as vectors of disease and a conspiracy against the public goes on unchecked – and this under a Conservative government that is supposedly on the side of business.

With my attitude to Brexit I guess I must be an unrepentant member of the “liberal elite” stuck in my ways and in denial of populist democracy but, finally, here’s one that really got me ranting. David Runciman, professor of politics at Cambridge University, has complained the UK’s ageing population is creating a democratic deficit for the young. Is he advocating votes for 16-year-olds? Nope, that’s not radical enough. He wants voting rights for six-year-olds – “provided they can read”. I’m not making this up but if MPs continue to behave like six-year-olds, he may have a point. Merry Christmas!

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