Curmudgeon News - March 2000

This Month's Items Include:

  • Drink-Drive Limit Cut Shelved
  • Exercise Linked to Stress
  • A Budget for Smugglers
  • Chancellor Ignores Duty Cut Advice
  • Smugglers Target Manchester Kids
  • Bus Bumps Get Humps Dumped
  • Hoist by His Own Petard - Vol. 2
  • Help Cows, Drink Beer
  • Majority Oppose Extended Drinking Hours
  • 24-Hour Opening on the Way?
  • Police Quizzed on Alcohol Consumption
  • Poor Taxed More than Rich
  • What Price Competition?
Some real items of good news this month, or at least ones that bring a wry smile, in amongst the usual dismal stuff about the decline of tolerance and liberty.

Complete News Index


  • Drink-Drive Limit Cut Shelved

    The government's review of road safety has abandoned proposals to cut the UK drive-drive limit from 80 mg to 50 mg in the immediate future, although it includes plans to increase penalties for drivers found to be well above the limit. In view of current consideration of a harmonised Europe-wide 50 mg limit it is proposed "to deal with proposed reductions in a European context". It's regrettable to see that they have in effect ducked this issue rather than coming out clearly against it as the government of Canada did several months ago. Pubs and pubgoers across the country will be able to breathe a small sigh of relief, but there's no guarantee that the government will not return to the issue in the future. The "European context" is something of a red herring as there have been several press reports that any plans to harmonise drink-drive limits had been put on ice.

  • Exercise Linked to Stress

    A report by researchers at Hull University showed that couch potatoes were much happier than fitness fanatics. Those who played competitive sport or took regular exercise were found to have markedly higher levels of stress and anxiety than those who did little or no exercise. Not very surprising, really, as intensive exercising often stems from not feeling happy in yourself. It's a symptom of a disorder, not a symbol of well-being. It certainly seems that where I work those who are always at the gym or playing sport have twice as much time off sick as those of us whose idea of exercise is walking to the pub, and they're coughing, sneezing and moaning about their ailments most of the time they actually make it in to the office.

  • A Budget for Smugglers

    In his budget statement on 21 March, Chancellor Gordon Brown increased duty by 1p a pint for beer and 4p a bottle for wine, not to mention 25p for a packet of cigarettes. This is despite advice from many quarters (see next item) that duty increases are becoming increasingly counter-productive, and their main effect is to put more and more of the trade in tobacco and alcohol into the hands of criminals rather than legitimate businesses. And that 1p a pint is a con - because it refers to the pre-VAT, pre-markup price of the very weakest mild. By the time it reaches the pump it usually in practice becomes at least 3p, and more likely 5p a pint. The government claim they are putting more resources into combating smuggling - but if they can't stop the flow of illegal drugs, how on earth are they going to make much of a dent in the tide of fags and booze?

  • Chancellor Ignores Duty Cut Advice

    Chancellor Gordon Brown is reported to have ignored a warning from anti-smuggling adviser Martin Taylor that he should cut the duty on tobacco to halt soaring levels of contraband and curb the menace posed by criminal gangs also linked with hard drugs. Despite estimates that the black market was costing the Treasury up to 3 billion in lost revenue, Brown refused to take any action. It is now estimated that in the north of England, smuggled cigarettes account for half of the total smoked. Further evidence that punitive taxation does nothing except encourage smuggling - and it is much harder to regulate illicit cigarettes and prevent underage sales. Exactly the same applies to alcohol, of course. During the 1974-79 Labour government, the top rate of income tax was 98% - but the amounts paid at this rate were negligible. The same law of diminishing returns is now increasingly applying to tobacco and alcohol. Total government revenue from tobacco is estimated to have plummeted from 8.2 bn in 1998 to 5.7bn last year, which shows the inroads smugglers are making into the market.

  • Smugglers Target Manchester Kids

    Bootleg booze smugglers are reported to be targeting children on the streets of Greater Manchester. A survey carried out by the British Institute of Innkeeping estimated that almost 4,500 vans laden with illegal alcohol arrived in Manchester last year, and much of it is being sold to children at pocket money prices. Mary Curnock Cook, director of the BII, said: "This is hard proof that smuggling is hitting those in society who are most vulnerable - children and teenagers. Everyone thought it was a south east problem but it has actually moved north." Yet more proof that the huge disparity in duty levels is increasingly putting the drinks trade in the hands of criminals who couldn't care less about minimum drinking ages. So why don't we tackle the cause rather than the symptoms and start to equalise duty?

  • Bus Bumps Get Humps Dumped

    Councils across the country will be forced to spend millions of pounds lowering speed humps, as a result of government disabled access regulations, which require buses to have lower floors for wheelchair users. Up to 500,000 ramps need urgent work as buses are grounding as they drive over them. As more buses get lowered floors, council bosses must rip up the humps, or make them smaller. This really made my day, seeing two forms of political correctness coming into conflict with each other. But wouldn't they save more money by just ripping the things out completely?

  • Hoist by His Own Petard - Vol. 2

    Basingstoke PC Simon Wright, who had caught 7,520 speeding motorists in a year using a portable speed camera, was tailed in his car by the "News of the World" and found to exceed the speed limit by a significant amount on three separate occasions, which would have given him nine penalty points if caught. One further violation would have put him in line for a driving ban. Do as I say, not as I do. But I'm sure that PC Wright, as a trained police driver, was well aware that he was driving entirely safely for the conditions - and how many of those 7,520 were really causing any appreciable danger either? Back last September, a much more senior officer, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Paul Manning, was caught out in exactly the same way.

  • Help Cows, Drink Beer

    US animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has launched a campaign against the exploitation of milk cows, and is encouraging college students to switch from milk to healthy, life-giving beer. This is despite the fact that most US states have a minimum legal drinking age of 21. Well, I would urge you to drink plenty of both. Beer, in moderate quantities, does you good. And it's worth remembering that, before the development of clean water supplies, beer, often at much higher gravities than is common today, was a staple daily drink for everyone.

  • Majority Oppose Extended Drinking Hours

    A survey by the Institute of Alcohol Studies has found that 59% of the population were opposed to the extension of evening drinking hours. Over 90% felt that local residents should have the right to object to late night opening of pubs and clubs in their area. Clearly the IAS as an anti-alcohol body has an axe to grind on this subject, and such surveys do not take account of the strength of people's feelings for and against. But this shows how public opinion is divided on this issue, with real concerns about disturbance in residential areas, and the government will have to proceed very carefully. It might be a controversial measure to introduce this side of the General Election. However, on the other hand....

  • 24-Hour Opening on the Way?

    Pubs in England and Wales could be open 24 hours under government proposals due out within the next few weeks. The Times says it has seen details of the White Paper overhauling the licensing laws and claims that from next year drinkers will be able to benefit from liberal opening hours similar to those on the continent. Under the government proposals, pubs will be able to close when they choose or to serve alcohol all night. Local authorities will be given the power to grant licences instead of magistrates. Obviously I'm broadly in favour of this, but I can't help feeling that the government are potentially opening a can of worms, and that a lot of opposition will come out of the woodwork, as the previous item suggests. And there's a risk that handing control of licensing to local authorities will lead to the decline of the "local" as pubs where there are no nearby residents to object gain an unfair advantage.

  • Police Quizzed on Alcohol Consumption

    Police chiefs are being questioned over how much alcohol they drink amid fears that increased workloads and high stress levels are driving them to the bottle. A questionnaire has been sent to each of the country's 1,280 police superintendents asking them to state how many units of alcohol they consume each week. I couldn't help raising a slight smile, given the way the police over the years have done their best to ruin the business of country pubs. But, if you do any kind of professional or managerial job, how long will it be before your bosses are asking you the same question?

  • Poor Taxed More Than Rich

    The latest government figures suggest that the poorest 20% of households actually pay more of their income in tax than the richest 20% of households. This is largely because of the reliance on indirect taxes like VAT and duty on cigarettes, petrol, and alcohol, which fall disproportionately on the poor. Interesting that it's a Labour government that is presiding over one of the most regressive tax structures for a century. But since these are all taxes on things the Nanny State disapproves of, it looks likely that they will go on soaking the poor and patronising them at the same time - as indeed Gordon Brown did in his latest budget.

  • What Price Competition?

    It is reported that shopping bills are poised to fall as supermarkets begin a new price war. Asda and Tesco both said prices would be slashed on a range of goods, saving shoppers an average 15 a week. However, an interim report into supermarket prices from the Competition Commission found there was some evidence that supermarkets might be abusing their monopoly power. Although food was getting cheaper in real terms, it felt price competition was based on just a small number of items. This is certainly borne out by my own experience. Too often, reductions are concentrated on bulk-buy deals which only appeal to those with large families and large wallets. For example, I haven't noticed any falls whatsoever in the prices of the premium bottled beers that obviously make up the bulk of my weekly shop.

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