National chairman’s speech at Members’ Weekend

National chairman’s speech at Members’ Weekend

First of all, I’d like to say, “Thank you”, to Dave Pickersgill and the local organising committee, and all those volunteering this weekend. Without them this event would not be possible. I know I said it last year in Eastbourne, but the feeling remains the same – it’s amazing to be back and gathering in person.  

We have a fantastic selection of fringe activities, trips, and socialising opportunities, not least in the Members’ Bar.  

This has been another tough year for the licensed trade, with scores of pubs and small brewers closing for business, all while consumers have had to tighten their belts.    

And this has also been a tough year for everyone within the CAMRA family, as we regroup in the post-pandemic world where the landscape for voluntary and campaigning organisations is changing. 

However, I’m proud of the work that we have done for consumers, pubs, social clubs, brewers, and cider and perry makers in 2022 and into this year.     

And we have also taken a critical look inwards, pushing forward with various reviews and working groups to improve the Campaign, making it work better for you.  

First, I want to talk about the campaigning that we’ve done, at every level across the UK, to fight for pubs, clubs, brewers and cider makers.   

Last year, I spoke about the challenges we overcame during the pandemic, at a point when we didn’t necessarily grasp the scale of the challenges that the winter of 2022 would bring.   

The top priority has been addressing the parallel cost of living and cost of business crises resulting in high-profile campaigning to secure vital energy bill and business rate support.  

Throughout, we have used our unique voice as consumers, rather than licensees, to tell government about the nightmare situation many people find themselves in – wanting to support their pubs and clubs, but just not having the disposable income to do so. 

In fact, in June last year, it was the chair of Northamptonshire branch who our Campaigns team worked with to raise of the first cases of a licensee handing back their tenancy due to the spiralling energy costs, writing to the local MP.   

With the awful decision to drastically reduce energy support this month, we have made clear to government the effect this will have on the already tragically high numbers of shuttered pubs.   

And with business rate support schemes ending across the UK next year, that will be a main campaigning focus for the next fiscal event.  

Through our campaigning on taxation, regulation and competition policy, we strive for both a fiscal and legislative environment that is beneficial for small brewers and cider makers, and allowing pubs and social clubs to provide genuine choice at the bar for consumers.  

This gets tougher in the face of squeezed cask volumes, pub companies taking back tenanted pubs for managed uses and continuing mergers and acquisitions by global brands.  

However, we continue to build our relationship with the Competition and Markets Authority and engage with elected representatives to build their understanding and support with these complex issues.  

This year, we contributed to an externally commissioned review of the CMA’s handling of merger inquiries, which backed up our assertions about how the CMA should assess local market definitions and took part in a CMA round table on the function of the UK internal market.   

Outside that direct work with competition authorities, our campaigning through the Alcohol Duty Review will give small cider makers a progressive duty system for the first time, and we closely monitor access to market for small brewers in the context of a contracting post-pandemic cask beer market.   

The Alcohol Duty Review will make significant changes to the duty regime, and crucially introduce the new draught duty rate for beer and cider. We secured changes to reduce the draught container size threshold from 40L to 20L – benefitting small brewers, cider makers and pubs.  

As well as strong central representations from our Campaigns team and campaigning committees, many branches have responded to each of the government consultations on the review.  

Making detailed submissions on the finer details of the duty system is not the most glamourous job, but we are so thankful to each of you that have taken the time to do it. It’s why we are considered such a credible campaigning force by the government.  

Ahead of the implementation of the new system in August, we’re now campaigning for a final change to how the draught duty rate will operate – making sure that publicans can continue to make draught takeaway sales without unnecessary bureaucracy that would result in a stealth ban on takeaway pints.  

We have also secured a commitment from the Treasury to consult on the definition of cider for tax purposes. This is a key opportunity to campaign for an increase in the minimum required juice content of cider. It remains baffling, and misleading to consumers, that something less than 50 per cent juice can be sold over the bar as cider.  

And we’ve campaigned on so much more than taxation.  

As always, our expert pub protection advisors are helping community campaigners save pubs across the UK, and we are campaigning for greater planning protection for pubs in the devolved nations.  

Last year, our chief executive Tom Stainer gave evidence to the Senedd, requesting the removal of permitted development rights that allow pubs in Wales to be demolished or converted without planning permission. 

We have been leading the charge against proposals from the Scottish government to ban alcohol advertising and sponsorship which would devastate the viability of small and independent producers – and decimate consumer choice north of the border. Hundreds of you used our template consultation response and earlier this week the new first minister has said he will be going back to the drawing board to re-think these proposals – that’s our strength in numbers at work. 

Plans for a costly and complex Deposit Return Scheme on all cans and bottles in Scotland is a threat to choice if smaller producers stop selling into the Scottish market. Our Scottish branches and members have been making sure the impact on consumers is understood by ministers and members of the Scottish Parliament. As a result, the scheme has been delayed until 2024 and there are new plans to make it simpler for small breweries and cider producers to take part. 

And we are working to make sure similar schemes for Wales, England and Northern Ireland are workable and proportionate. The principle of Deposit Return Schemes should be welcomed by environmentally conscious consumers, but the details must be right to avoid a catastrophe for small producers and consumer choice.  

Work to implement a Pubs Code in Scotland continues, despite the best efforts of the big pubcos and brewers to frustrate the process through legal challenge. We have worked with a broad coalition of tenant groups, campaigners, and brewers to keep the Scottish government on our side, and despite the legal shenanigans, a shadow adjudicator has been appointed and is due to start work as the details of the Scottish code are finalised.  

We have also been campaigning through consultation exercises to make sure that the code provides strong powers to tenants through the guest beer right and increased access to the market rent only function.   

A robust submission was made to the second statutory review of the code and adjudicator for England and Wales, making the case for the extension of the code to cover all tied tenants and not just those tied to the largest of the pub companies.  

If you’re getting a sense of déjà vu, or feeling as though we spoke about this recently, you are right – the first code review only concluded last year. We’re hoping this review will move a bit faster, but the Campaigns team is getting quite wary about making predictions after having to welcome and brief sets of ministers last year, only to have to thank and say goodbye to them weeks later when a new prime minister arrived.  

On that subject, we are also very grateful to those who emailed your MPs multiple times over just a few months – it’s vital that we keep our messages in the virtual in-trays of our elected representatives, especially when parliamentary politics can be distracting from the issues at hand.  

We also must not forget our campaigning in Northern Ireland, where we finally saw some of the licensing reforms we have campaigned for being implemented, giving producers the ability to sell online and open brewery shops for the first time. 

Our branch in Northern Ireland – hopefully soon to be a CAMRA region in its own right – have campaigned tirelessly in support of their local independent brewers and cider makers, despite an archaic licensing regime and acute competition issues that make local cask beers on a bar a very rare sight.  

And across the board, throughout the UK, cask ales sales continue to be squeezed. That is why we have been the driving force behind a new, cross-industry campaign to revive cask beer as a desired and attractive choice. 

Beginning from a great idea within CAMRA, the ‘Drink Cask Fresh’ campaign has secured tens of thousands of pounds of investment from trade groups and brewers and now has a dedicated steering group and project manager in Pete Brown, acclaimed author, marketeer, and passionate advocate for cask. 

This campaign is now being run in selected pubs as a pilot phase, testing a new, research-led marketing and sales approach to getting people enthused about cask.  

And while we know where teaming up with others in the beer and pub world will get the best results, we also invest in our own educational content, campaigns and communications.  

The Learn and Discover platform goes from strength to strength this year with a drive on video content through our YouTube channel – if you haven’t already, please visit and subscribe.  

The Pubs. Pints. People. podcast, is now two seasons older, with more listeners and new hosts.  

And the 50th edition of the Good Beer Guide, and upcoming titles on Desi Pubs and the Manchester beer and pub scene.  

Not forgetting of course, the return of our flagship event – the Great British Beer Festival (GBBF) at Olympia.  

I won’t try and hide the challenges that festivals have faced as we get up and running again, from venue hire to procurement and sponsorship – these are tough economic times for festivals as well as the licensed trade. But there is support available from the Events team, from our Events Committee, and our festival assessors – all hugely experienced and here to help.  

This brings me on to talk about the work that we have done within the Campaign this year.  

This work is about listening, and taking a critical look inwards at our governance, policies, campaigning tools and offer to you.  

To make sure we’re working effectively, to make sure you have the resources that you need, and to help recruit and activate the next generation of members.  

As I said when we celebrated our 50th birthday last year, we want the Campaign to be here to celebrate its centenary – and that means a fighting fit organisation in the present.  

This year, we have started or concluded a range of review and working groups, as a focused way to look at areas, and to let our key strategic committees get on with business as usual.  

From the National Beer Scoring System, to our environmental policies, to our complaints and disciplinary process, groups of subject matter experts have been taking a detailed look at what we have, listening to feedback from you, and making recommendations for where we can improve and be more efficient – leaving you more time for recruitment and campaigning – the bread and butter of our Campaign.  

The Environmental Working Group reported in the middle of last year. This resulted in new strands of environmental campaigning emerging – including Plastic Pints are Rubbish a campaign on getting local authorities to ditch specifying non-recyclable plastic containers like polycarbonate from licensing conditions. Just a couple of weeks ago, Durham branch got the great news that the local council will be reviewing its licensing conditions to remove such requirements in future – a first local win on the issue.    

The Campaign Communications Working Group has just concluded its work and is making wide-ranging recommendations to make sure that people know how much we are campaigning on, how they can get involved, and what resources and support we provide.  

That has already resulted in the new Branch Bulletin weekly email to replace the Branch Mailout, in a more accessible newsletter style with more links and information in each edition.   

The Digital Futures Project continues, and while not a short-term review group, it continues to research and work on improvements, alongside our business-as-usual IT development work.  

Development work in the last year includes version 2 of the Branch Comms Tool, the new Brewery Information System, and work on a new Learn and Discover platform, due for launch in the coming months.  

Over the next 12 months there will be some exciting new enhancements. An online festival business planning portal will make it easier for you to compile and submit your festival plans, and it will then be integrated with the logistics asset system making ordering from the CAMRA warehouse easier and more reliable for you.  

A beer list manager, developed initially for GBBF will be rolled out for other festivals later in the year. Work continues to progress on a CAMRA Beer Experience product that will bring all aspects of pubs, pints and people into one easy to use digital product for members and non-members.  

The Inclusion, Diversity and Equality Review has delivered its final report, which was published yesterday. This is the result of the biggest consultation exercise with members and the wider industry since 2017.  

I won’t say too much on the results of the review, as you have already heard from Abigail Newton this morning, but I will say that the recommendations and work that will follow stand to benefit everyone in the Campaign, helping us become stronger and grow in number.  

The answers to increasing recruitment and activation are the same answers to increasing diversity in our membership and preventing harassment and discrimination within our Campaign. Inclusion is not a zero-sum game – we all benefit when we get this right.  

And this is also about recognising where we haven’t got things right, learning from mistakes and putting new systems in place to prevent things going wrong again. 

Many of you will have seen the media coverage of a pub in Essex, where it’s clear there was an issue with communication through different levels of our organisation, and where policies have not been implemented properly.  

That’s something we all have to take responsibility for, and I’m pleased to be able to say, despite the sting that comes with the open press and social media discussion and criticism, we have responded robustly and will learn and emerge stronger as a result.  

We have been bowled over with the support offered for the IDE Review, from our stalwart campaigners, to members offering to volunteer for the first time, to brewers and journalists in the wider drinks industry. Now, we start the huge task of implementing the Review recommendations.  

But back to the subject of recruitment and activation, I’m hoping that many of you have had a chance to look at the report from the Regions Review Group. If not, you will be hearing from the group very shortly after I finish speaking, and there will be plenty of time to ask questions.  

From the start, this has been about recognising where our regional structure works well but finding new or more efficient ways to work where it’s not.  

We know that we need more active volunteers, and we know that requires recruitment and activation. Just like the IDE Review, everyone can stand to benefit here – and it’s also vital to say that we’re still listening. As you will hear shortly, for the next stage of the Regions Review it’s over to you.  

A link to the report and details for responding to the proposals are online, and on the displays shown in this hall and the Members Bar during Conference breaks.  

Your regional directors are now receiving and collating feedback – specifically on improvements that can be made to how we work at a local level – please take this opportunity to have your say.  

We want to give you the structure and flexibilities to focus on growing our volunteer base through festivals, campaigns, and social events – the things that we do best. 

But we’re not just looking at how we organise on the volunteer side. To complement those review exercises and help guide the resulting changes, we have strengthened our Senior Staff team.  

Anita Newland-Smith has been appointed to replace Ken Owst as chief support officer & company secretary, Greg Rycroft has taken up the new role of chief information officer and Jane Eason has been appointed as chief campaigns and communications officer, a role that we have brought back after a break of a few years. Tom, our chief executive will speak in more detail about those changes later. 

We have a brilliant staff team working to support us and deliver our campaigning. 

Please use its expertise, get to know the teams that support your volunteering roles, and if you have questions, just ask.  

And before I conclude, a word on looking after each other, and ourselves. 

Being a member of CAMRA provides many social benefits and we pride ourselves on the support network, both formally through our branch structures, and informally through wider friendships, that being a part of the CAMRA family provides.  

However, we know that more people than ever suffer with their mental health and wellbeing, and that for many the pandemic only made this worse.  

Just as we hope to fight loneliness and social isolation through our CAMRA network, and in our wider campaigning for pubs, social clubs, and hospitality sector, we want to make sure that everyone within the Campaign know where they can get help if they need it.  

National Charity MIND offers confidential information and details of mental health support and has more than 100 branches throughout England and Wales, delivering direct services to anyone with mental health and wellbeing concerns. 

The Scotland Association for Mental Health provide a similar service in Scotland, and in Northern Ireland Inspire Wellbeing offer support and advice. Details of all these services are on the CAMRA website, were distributed in the Branch Bulletin yesterday, and will be featured both on the screen behind me and in the Members Bar on rolling presentations during breaks.  

I know that these are incredibly tough times not just for the licensed trade, but for our branches in a post-pandemic world, where the nature of volunteering and membership recruitment has changed.  

The economic situation is tough – for individual consumers, for the pubs, clubs, and producers we champion, and for our festivals.  

But we – the National Executive, regional directors and the national committees have been listening. We have a deep understanding of our organisation and our needs from local to national. Whether your branch is Kernow, Birmingham or Highlands and Islands, we are striving to provide the support you need. 

Whether you want to take to the streets with banners to protest a local brewery closure or work with the council on stronger pub protection measures, we want to support your local campaigning aspirations. 

Whether it’s recruiting five people to reboot your branch, or an army of volunteers for a new festival – we want to have the training and resources in place to help you succeed.  

Because campaigning solely from the centre isn’t the same, and our message is most effective when it’s rooted in the local. We are a broad church, and our strength comes in our numbers, our diversity, our determination, and our local, community presence.  

And we will only secure our long-term future if we work together. Time and time again, it’s proven that recruitment works best at the local level, and that activation works best when there’s a social element alongside the campaigning.  

And there is so much to look forward to.  

Our Summer of Pub campaign is coming back, kicking off with the Coronation weekend, with extended licensing hours for pubs and social clubs.  

Despite that tough economic outlook, we have more festivals returning this Summer, building back towards our pre-pandemic levels.   

Whether it’s beer scoring, Cider Month, new book titles, Learn and Discover content, Club of the Year selections or lobbying our MPs, there’s something for everyone to get involved in and enjoy.  

And the Great British Beer Festival will come around before we know it – all these events and campaigns providing opportunities to recruit new members, activate existing ones and spread our message far and wide.  

So please, let’s enjoy being together this weekend.  

Let’s take the opportunity to debate, socialise and learn from each other. 

And let’s go home energised and ready for the campaigning ahead. 


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