Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - September 2001

* Spotting the Broad Picture *

Does beer spotting have anything to do with campaigning for real ale and real pubs?

In last month's "OT", Phil Booton complains that many CAMRA members refuse to accept "beer spotting" as a legitimate activity. Personally I have no problem with it at all - if people want to spot new and rare beers, good luck to them. But beer spotting as such has precious little to do with campaigning for real ale, just as there's no automatic link between train spotting and campaigning for better transport networks.

It would be great if members of the beer spotting fraternity were willing to play a constructive part in the range of issues covered by their local CAMRA branches. But unfortunately all too often we hear them carping from the sidelines and dismissing as without interest the long-established independent breweries and the traditional two-beer locals that form the backbone of the real beer and real pub scene. As long as that attitude persists it's hardly surprising that many CAMRA members have little time for them.

* Wolves Set Free *

Is there any place for the traditional brewer in today's cut-throat financial world?

It was good news that Wolves & Dudley managed a narrow escape from the fatal embrace of Pubmaster. While Wolves are by no means perfect, this is a far better outcome than the scorched earth policy towards their breweries that their rivals would have pursued. But you have to wonder just how long any publicly-quoted integrated brewing and pub business can survive in the face of the money men's obsession with global brands and short term profits.

The reason we still have four substantial independent breweries operating with a fair degree of success in Greater Manchester is that they are family-controlled businesses that can afford to take a long-term view and don't have to answer to the City every six months. So I would suggest to David Thompson, Wolves' chairman, that if he wants to see his business survive more than a couple of years, he should take steps to arrange a management buy-out and take the company private.

* Low-Alcohol Lunches *

Banning lunchtime drinking shows a disappointing lack of trust in your employees

According to a recent survey of British companies, lunchtime drinking should be banned and staff subjected to random drug tests to curb high levels of substance abuse among employees. Three quarters of firms questioned said they wanted their staff to refrain from the traditional liquid lunch while a further one in three said it was considering introducing drug and alcohol tests in the office because workers were not performing to the best of their ability.

But surely this misses the point. Unless you're in a safety-critical role, having a swift half at lunchtime is hardly going to impact on work performance, and the demotivating effect of banning it could be far worse. We hear all this talk nowadays of "empowerment" and "employee involvement", but in reality employees seem to be subject to ever more petty and intrusive regulations. The key to a harmonious, productive workplace must be trust between employers and employees, and clamping down on even a modest lunchtime tipple shows a singular lack of it.

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