The chains include JD Wetherspoon – the original sponsors of the voucher scheme, Stonegate Inns, Brains, Castle Rock plus Amber Taverns managed pubs. A total of 1,550 pubs are included in the scheme, and with each voucher worth 50p off a pint of real ale, cider or perry, this amounts to an annual benefit of £30.
Scarborough Branch member Phil Saltonstall, who owns Brass Castle Brewery in Malton, proposed the motion, and is critical of CAMRA’s refusal to debate the issue, but all motions put forward at the Campaign’s AGM have to be vetted by the Conference Procedures Committee.
An appeal has been lodged, but will not be heard until the night before the AGM, a move which many will view as an attempt to stifle debate.
Unfortunately for CAMRA, the issue is not going away, and the Procedures Committee's heavy-handed action has only inflamed passions over what is already an emotive subject. 110 breweries, from all over the UK, have now signed an open letter in support of the motion, and are calling on CAMRA to end its use of discount vouchers and tacit support of large pub chains.
The signatories are from a wide and diverse range of respected independent breweries, and include many brewers of CAMRA-judged award-winning beers. Several of these companies are past winners of CAMRA’s prestigious National Champion Beer of Britain. More breweries are coming forward in support, making the Campaign’s attempt to shut down the debate on this important issue, before it even started, look all the more foolish.
The brewers go on to say: “CAMRA will win more support from the wider brewing and pub industries when it stops driving people to chain pubs for cheap beer, and when it instead respects real ale, respect the pubs that showcase it, and respects the brewers who produce it.”
There is much in the motion, and the support letter that I agree with, and I have argued in the past for CAMRA to distance itself from such discount schemes. The predictable response was that Spoons vouchers help people on low incomes, pensioners or the unemployed, but CAMRA should be something more than an organisation that facilitates cheap beer for its members.
Writing on the Brass Castle Brewery website, motion proposer, Phil Saltonstall said, “I know not everyone will agree with our motion, but many do and there was an excellent opportunity to have the debate in April at the AGM. It is infuriating that CAMRA has sought to stifle this debate, and in doing so it shows a blindness to the huge impact this has on real ale, breweries and publicans, and CAMRA’s public image.”
You can read Phil’s statement in full here, along with the open letter and the current list of signatories, but in the meantime, what are the odds of CAMRA backing down and at lease allowing the issue to be debated in an open and honest manner? The group haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory over this matter, and their incoherent policy on discounting undermines its credibility in virtually all other campaigning areas.
CAMRA may fear that, if the motion was approved, they would see a reduction in membership levels, but the organisation cannot exist solely to boost its own numbers, while the fate of real ale is left to its own devices. All indicators suggest that cask is in serious decline, so now more than ever the genre needs a self-respecting and energetic Campaign for Real Ale.
An organisation that jumps into bed with groups such as Wetherspoon’s and Stonegate cannot claim to be acting in an impartial and independent manner, and lays itself open to the criticism already put forward.