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[ Campaigning Priorities 1998-2002 | Campaigning Priorities 2002-2003 ]

At the Branch AGM 2010 we plan to choose a fresh set of priorities

Campaigning priorities

CAMRA's national priorities from 2003:
  1. Promote and improve the image, quality and variety of real ale.
  2. Promote the consumption of Real Ale In A Bottle.
  3. Promote real ale to groups currently under-represented in the real ale drinker profile.
  4. Promote pub use for everyone.
  5. Promote excellence in pubs.
  6. Help communities keep their local pubs thriving.
  7. Protect and cherish pub heritage.
  8. Prevent beer-drinking and pub-going consumers from being ripped off.
  9. Help consumers get information to assist them in choice.
  10. Help consumers get good service in pubs.

Promotion of real ale

It's all about real, live, traditionally-made beer with interesting, varied and complex tastes versus dead, mass-produced and largely tasteless fizzy yellow liquid (kept cold to disguise the lack of pleasant flavours).

In early 1998 big brewers such as Bass started putting it about that real ale was in decline. However the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association's figures showed that keg and lager were in decline and that nitrokeg had peaked.

If real ale sales are down, it's entirely due to the big brewers' national blands - they dominate the market in volume terms. The national brewers are essentially abandoning real ale, leaving a wonderful opportunity for independent brewers, provided they can get access to the handpumps of the big pubcos.

Real cider & perry

These are as much under threat as real beer is from the likes of Nitrokeg. Heavily marketed plastic ciders such as K6 (presumably an improvement on K9P) abound, sometimes with fake handpumps such as Scrumpy Jack. [No reflection on Restalrig's "K9P" cask-conditioned lager!]

Guest beer

CAMRA is campaigning for all landlords to have a real choice in selecting at least one guest beer, not just what their bosses allow them from the corporate portfolio.

However as of 2003 the Government's 1989 regulations about guest beers (the Beer Orders) have been abandoned, so pubcos can and often do exercise tight control on the choices available to their managers and tenants.

Quality & distinctiveness of real ale

Aside from the real v. messed-about beer debate, there is also the issue of the quality of a real beer, which depends on details of production, distribution, storage and dispense. Poor quality gives people a reason to choose instead the consistently tasteless nitrokeg and "smooth" or "cream" products even though they're more expensive.

Methods of storage

Fundamentally real beers should be allowed to develop naturally in the barrel and not have their flavour destroyed by the application of gas.

There is one circumstance where it's a reasonable compromise that artificial gas can be used, though it will no longer fit the definition of real ale. In the case of a beer with low turnover, the cask breather system allows it enough lifetime to avoid wastage. This can allow quieter pubs to stock beers such as Milds they might otherwise be unable to sell. There is no excuse for use in busy pubs or pubs trying to sell too many different beers. All blind-tasting trials so far have shown that a properly-used cask breather has no effect on flavour.

However there's now a clever new spile - the Race spile, an update of the old Martin spile - which is essentially a non-return valve: this allows beers to vent without allowing air (& yeast infection, etc.) freely in, removing the need for a cask breather. The beer's own gas acts as a blanket.

Methods of dispense

Inappropriate methods of dispense are widespread - typically designed by corporate types to cheat the consumer. Fake handpumps try to con people that it's the real thing. Foamy heads, often created artificially with sparklers, to the detriment of flavour, are used to boost profits by serving less than a pint of liquid. This is made easier in many pubs by using brim-measure glasses instead of over-size ones - these have room for a head and a full pint of liquid.

CAMRA insists that pubs with fake handpumps (such as the standard Scrumpy Jack one) be removed for a pub to be considered for a Good Beer Guide listing.

Methods of dispense from the barrel:

For instance, some Greene King pubs used to receive real ale from the brewery but then use gas to serve it. The Alexandra Arms (Gwydir Street, Cambridge) was one of these until November 1999, when handpumps were installed. We believe the Cherry Tree in Soham was the last keg-only GK pub in the branch area, until it installed handpumps in early 2003.

Full measure

As of 2003 CAMRA and Trading Standards departments' surveys show that most pubs serve short measure - less than the 5% margin of error allowed under the industry's own guidelines for a "full pint".

Support for the off-trade

CAMRA supports real ale in bottles and real ale off-licences.

Regional and family brewers

Regional and family brewers are the biggest producers of high-quality real ale and are the key to fighting for distintive, tasty beers.

Local Breweries

The big challenge for small breweries is in finding outlets for their beers. The Government's sliding scale of duty has helped many breweries develop, often by buying pubs, thus guaranteeing an outlet for their production.

Brewery closures

A related issue is the relentless closure of breweries by medium and large companies in the name of "rationalisation" - almost invariably as development sites rather than as the working breweries they could be.


CAMRA supports traditional pubs - a part of their communities - and a diversity of styles - of consumer choice - from backstreet boozer to "yoof" fun-pubs to family pubs.

Far too many perfectly good pubs are being redeveloped to lose all interest and character, to fit in with flavour-of-the-month corporate images and marketing theories. Often distinct drinking areas are swept away to produce a single bland space. This may well be one of the biggest factors driving people away from pubs to home drinking of supermarket brands - most people prefer smaller, cozy spaces.

The big chains tend to believe in giant beer barns and theme pubs. They tend to buy only from the big brewers via discount agreements, undercutting and excluding the smaller brewers - those producing more interesting beers.

Since the late 1990s the industry seems to have divided into these categories:

The EU Commission has been threatening to end the pub tie: loss of the tie would end the guaranteed outlet for the small brewers as the nationals would offer heavily-discounted deals. In 2003 the UK Office of Fair Trading rejected a request to look at the tie again.

Another area of concern is the increase in fake Free Houses - tied to a pub chain or brewer by a loan or distribution agreement. Locally, Greene King is the worst offender: look at one of its Hungry Horse pubs and you may see it badged as a Free House.

Rural pubs

Rural pubs are under threat from pub companies who care nothing about the communities their pubs serve. Far too many communities now have no pub - or shop. Against this trend, some pubs are experimenting with being Post Offices and the like. CAMRA and others are campaigning for planning controls against the loss of community pubs and also for business rates relief where necessary.

The Government has been tinkering in a limited way with mandatory rate relief for rural community pubs and regional/countryside development agencies sometimes help out with grants, e.g. to combine a pub with a post office.

In our region Greene King is one of the worst offenders, selling off village pubs as housing instead of letting someone else run them.

Licensing reform

CAMRA favours deregulation: a landlord of a small, community pub should be able to choose the hours that suit his trade, just as a small shopkeeper can, with the normal Police public order & Environmental Health noise concerns respected.

Beer duty

British beer duty is far higher than in France, for instance, hence the massive cross-channel trade (at least 1.3 million pints a day) which is doing so much harm to south-east pubs. CAMRA campaigns for a more sensible level of duty, to stop the cross-channel trade and revive pub trade.

Cambridge & District CAMRA