Members of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) continued to drive positive change for the organisation during its Conference held in Coventry last weekend.
Members attending CAMRA’s Conference, held after its AGM in Coventry over the weekend of 21/22 April, agreed beer festivals should not be limited to selling just real ale; called for new diversity and equality policies; overwhelmingly defeated a motion to reduce tax relief for small breweries; agreed a policy that CAMRA members should not demand or expect discounts from pubs and breweries; and removed its former opposition to 'cask breathers'.
The vast majority of members had already demonstrated their support for change by voting through all but one of a package of measures designed to make CAMRA more relevant, inclusive and welcoming, during the Annual General Meeting held on the morning of 21 April.
Speaking after the close of the Conference, new National Chairman Jackie Parker said, “It’s been a very successful and forward looking weekend and it’s very positive to see our members voting to approve motions which are designed to be proactive and positive and help position CAMRA as a welcoming and inclusive organisation - aiming to improve consumer experiences, rather than telling people what they should or shouldn’t be drinking.”
Better choice at beer festivals
CAMRA festivals have been given the opportunity to widen their appeal to all drinkers by offering a wider range of beers and other products - including non-real ales.
Members at CAMRA’s Conference voted to approve the removal of wording in the organisation’s policy document which said festivals should only stock real ale, cider and perry. They also agreed to a motion calling for festivals which offered other types of beer to provide educational material about all beer types on sale.
National Director Abigail Newton pointed out that there were a huge number of beer drinkers who didn’t drink real ale who currently didn’t attend the organisation’s festivals - but who could be attracted.
She said, “Festivals who offer other beers increase their competitive advantage, attract new customers and give us the chance to get our message across once we get them through the door.”
National Director Nik Antona said CAMRA’s policy on this was 30 years out of date and it was time for change. He referred to Kodak, which became irrelevant because it didn’t change.
He said, “Festival organisers have already realised the market has changed and I don’t want festivals to become irrelevant and experience the 'Kodak effect'. We want our festival organisers to attract a wider audience and continue to be successful in a changing market.”
National Director Ian Hill reassured members that the motion would not stop them from running festivals as they wanted, but gave organisers choice. He added, “I want to salute those festivals who have embraced the positive opportunity of a more modern and positive attitude.”
Equality & diversity
Members voted to approve a motion calling for the National Executive (the organisation’s board of directors) to set equality and diversity targets and report back on progress annually.
Urging members to support the motion, National Director Abigail Newton said CAMRA had already taken steps to promote inclusivity and combat discrimination.
She added, “Embedding equality and diversity into the organisation is not going to be a simple or quick process, but this motion will help to start the changes we require to make CAMRA an organisation which is welcoming to all.
'Individuals are more likely to join and remain members of CAMRA if they can see that our membership includes people who look and think like they do. Change requires leadership and while enacting this motion might be challenging, it’s is our duty to provide it.”
She added that there were organisations and support available to help CAMRA improve its diversity and inclusivity. And she concluded, “If we’re not prepared to do all we can to ensure our Campaign is diverse, inclusive and welcoming to all, what are we saying?”
Small Brewery Duty Relief
CAMRA members overwhelmingly rejected a call to campaign to reduce Small Brewery Duty Relief.
Phil Edmond from Somerset branch said that passing this motion would be a retrograde step and reduce the number of breweries and the choice of beer for drinkers. He added, “If [this motion] is passed it would be the final nail in the coffin for many breweries.”
National Director Ian Packham said, “This calls on CAMRA to campaign for an increase in tax on brewers, which is a dramatic reversal in CAMRA’s policy and campaigning over the last 40 years.”
In urging members to reject the motion he added that increasing the tax breweries paid by reducing the Small Brewers Relief would lead to higher prices for drinkers and brewery closures.
Conference was told that further discussions were ongoing. CAMRA’s position has been and remains that the brewing industry should find a compromise and present a single proposal to the Government in support of its wish for Small Brewers Relief to be reviewed.
Don’t demand discounts
Members clearly supported a motion stating a belief that pubs and breweries should not be expected to give discounts, and criticised when they failed to do so - but recognised the freedom of pubs and breweries to offer discounts if they wished.
Buster Grant, brewery owner and former chairman of the Small Independent Brewers Association (SIBA), told the Conference that there was increasing financial pressure on publicans and brewers and that it seemed perverse that some members of CAMRA insisted on demanding a discount.
He added, “Not only is this culture eroding the margins that can be earned but it threatens the stability of the supply chain and counters the aims of this organisation. It also creates a negative feeling about CAMRA.”
There were no speakers against the motion, which was clearly carried.
CAMRA now neutral on 'cask breathers'
Members decided to change CAMRA’s policy on 'cask breathers' - devices used in pub cellars to lengthen the life of cask beers by ensuring a blanket of carbon dioxide preserves the beer. Previously against such devices, the motion called on the Campaign to end its opposition to cask breathers.
National Director Nick Boley explained that all cask breathers do is stop air from getting into the cask and keeps the condition of the beer closer to a freshly tapped cask.
He added, “I’ve tried to work out the chemistry of why cask breathers were wrong: I couldn’t and I’m still scratching my head. Cask breathers are a boon for small rural pubs and cafe bars. If we want to get cask beer into these outlets this is one way of doing it.
“The ban on cask breather policy has had its day and there is no reason to continue to exclude pubs using cask breathers from our guide.
John O’Donnell, from Trafford and Hulme branch, said, “We’ve heard a popular myth that beer needs oxygen for secondary fermentation, it doesn’t. Oxygen is beer’s enemy. This perpetuates another myth that pubs that use cask breathers aren’t good pubs. [Our current policy] results in members going into pubs and tell them they’re not eligible for awards. It’s a bad thing.'
National Director Ben Wilkinson said, “This motion is about giving more freedom to CAMRA’s branches. There are lots of pubs across the UK which cannot be placed in the Good Beer Guide (GBG) because of our policy. This will allow pubs to be included in the GBG based on the quality of the beer and the pub.
'There is a lot of confusion about cask breathers which is simply not true. They improve the quality of beer and that is all that they do. Let’s trust branches and our local members to assess the quality of beers on their merit.”