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Is CAMRA really giving us the full picture here?

THE Great British Beer Festival: a time for drinking, demonstrating, promoting, and CAMRA carpet-bombing the media with contrived press releases to generate headlines.

THE Great British Beer Festival: a time for drinking, demonstrating, promoting, and CAMRA carpet-bombing the media with contrived press releases to generate headlines.

CAMRA has used the fun and games of the beer festival, being held at Olympia in London this week, to try to get a few messages out, including falling numbers of young people going to pubs (allegedly), and how London is the “most transformed brewing scene in the UK” (hmmm).

There’s even one about which Olympian people would most like to have a pint with (Daley Thompson, apparently; who’d have guessed?).

The headline statistic CAMRA pushes forward is that the percentage of 18-24-year-olds visiting the pub once a week or more has fallen from 38% to 16% between 2005 and 2012. To this, CAMRA links in its pub closures statistics and also a “cause for hope”, citing a 50% rise in young adults trying real ale in the last four years.

CAMRA says the Great British Beer Festival was the perfect opportunity to reacquaint people with their community pub (without stating how they’re doing that), as the GBBF is the “World’s Biggest Pub”.

Presumably it’s hoping for a wave of scary headlines and a promotion for CAMRA’s campaign work.

But the “World’s Biggest Pub” is surely exactly what it’s not; it’s a beer festival, which if anything are always oversubscribed as we’ve seen countless times here in the North East. It’s an important distinction when trying to promote what pubs have to offer.

And again, it’s yet more CAMRA statistics in isolation, the usual frightening figures for pub closures that actually don’t stand up to scrutiny. There's no indication of when the fall-off happened between 2005 and 2012 – did the recession in 2007 cause it? Has it been a year-on-year decrease? Only 1,000 “pub-goers” were asked. At what point do you class yourself as a pub-goer?

The problem is that the statistics tell us very little. Perhaps if there was analysis of the data, or some sort of context given, or even some follow-up questions actually asking people “why do you no longer go to the pub regularly?” rather than leaving us to speculate, it might be more useful.

There was also no definition of a pub, and I had to ask; it turns out it was left to the respondents themselves to decide what a pub was – to be fair, probably the best way, as pubs are defined by more than a quantitative tick list.

But as for pub closures, pubs are defined as “an establishment where the public can enter and consume an alcoholic beverage on the premise [sic]. The premises [sic] primary or significant activities are the sale by retail, and consumption on site of licensed alcoholic products” – so presumably nightclubs and perhaps some restaurants could be classed in that.

The main problems facing the pub trade are already known, such as the insane beer duty levels and competition from supermarkets.

Perhaps if we ask the right questions and follow it up with positive action, we can avoid scary headlines and focus on how to fix the problem.

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