The AGM of SIBA (formerly the Small Independent Brewer’s Association – now the Society of Independent Brewers but still retaining the original Acronym or, to use marketing speak, “Brand.”) is to be held on Thursday 16th March at Ice Sheffield at 10.30am. I hope every member manages to turn up and vote.
SIBA has always been associated with Progressive Beer Duty (PBD), the system introduced in 2002. Indeed it campaigned for it for 21 years before its introduction. It is, in simple terms a system whereby smaller breweries pay lower rates of beer duty. Here’s the wikipedia entry on it if you’re interested.
Over the years following its introduction, many new breweries started up, kickstarting what is now called the craft beer movement in the UK. Some of these have come and gone, most have stayed small, because that’s what they want to be, and some have done very well, grown and are now eligible for less or even no relief under the PBD system.
There was a huge controversy several years ago which peripherally involved the abandonment of the word, “Small” from the name. There were several good reasons for this, notably that many of the original members rightly felt ownership of SIBA yet were no longer small. Fair enough. Following on from that, a new type of membership was introduced, Associate Brewing Membership. This was aimed at opening up membership to bigger players. Not just ones who had already been members when they were small, but anyone. Numerous large organisations have jumped aboard and it seems that the fears of the smaller members at the time are coming to fruition, that the entryists are changing SIBA because they couldn’t beat it. A couple of years ago I did some MP interaction on a SIBA initiative and my point of contact ended up being someone at the BBPA (British Beer and Pub Association – the natural enemy of SIBA against whom, and its ilk, SIBA was invented to fight.)
The argument against, “Reactionary sentiments,” such as mine is that we all have to work together, and that if the grass roots dig their heels in and force a split with the property conglomerate cartels like BBPA and its members, which predominated pre-SIBA, SIBA will cease to be as effective a voice as it could otherwise be. My answer to that is that having an effective voice is counterproductive if it arguing against one’s own interests. The most important thing about having a voice is that it says what you want it to say.
We are up against formidable forces here but we have one last backstop. It is still one member, one vote, and the vast majority of members are small brewers who stand to be greatly disadvantaged by a review of PBD. If the 21 year fight for its introduction, a fight which was against powerful interests such as the BBPA and its members is not to have been in vain, we must rid ourselves of these entryists. After all, if the founding members of SIBA had followed the doctrine of big is beautiful in the early days, and towed the BBPA line, we never would have got PBD in the first place. Thus history has shown us that SIBA, on its own, small and underfunded can create a seismic shift for the better in the brewing industry – and yet now they want us to go along with the very interests which have always opposed us. Those who at their core believe that consumer choice should be decided at the stroke of a pen in a boardroom in Burton on Trent, not by the manager of a bar, and still less the consumer. On that basis I implore all SIBA members to attend the AGM (16th March 2017, Ice Sheffield, 10.30am) and vote in favour of Motions 1 and 2, which address the problematic issue of Associate brewing members.
(UPDATE: If you can’t make it to the AGM, you may appoint a proxy. I’m happy to do that for anyone but you must notify SIBA of your decision using the protocol described here so that it is delivered to them no later than 13th March 2017. The full list of motions is here. If you nominate me please let me know how you want to vote on each one.
Members can register to attend the AGM free of charge – and must do so by 12th March 2017 – here)