I could tell you far more about this story, but I can sense that the reader may already have lost interest and moved on to another blog. So, to cut a long story short, I sold the slate today for less than I wanted, but for a reasonable amount more than I was originally offered. This has helped us to finish paying for our new tanks which will be delivered, so I'm told, around the middle of next week.
The other thing I have been busy with is sorting out an on-line shop. It's been in beta test mode hiding behind a password log-on. 12 kind souls have been buying beer through this medium, just to test everything is OK. The little bit of money from this, because payment via PayPal is virtually immediate, has also helped cash-flow a little. Selling to pubs and shops invariably means we get paid days, weeks or even months after you, the customer, has drunk the beer.
I imagine the reader who is still engaged is wondering why I don't take the password protection off the web-shop and sort out our cash-flow a little bit more. Mainly, the answer would be that I believe it is necessary to have a licence to sell alcohol to the general public. Don't worry though, the licence just came through and the shop will be online next week.
However, gaining this licence is not without it's difficulties and, more importantly, costs. Not only is the licence fee itself linked to the rateable value of the building, which you might think is fair enough. I don't think it is. If we had a little stand alone shop, say 16 square metres floor space, the rateable value would mean our licence would be in the lowest band. However, our shop is 16 square metres within a building that is over 200 square metres. The rateable value of all of that building puts us in a higher band. Money for nothing. On top of these costs are the costs of placing the statutory adverts, photocopying the forms and getting plans drawn up. Applying for a premises licence is not an insignificant activity.
It all makes me think about licences in general. The list of licences and permits for operating any pub or other on licence establishment are fairly extensive. PRS, TV licence, Satellite subscription, environmental health registration, premises licence, data protection registration.... the list goes on and on. The costs of gaining and maintaining these runs into thousands of pounds a year. It's not just the direct costs, which are often paid to the local authority in return for nothing other than permission to trade. There is also the administration costs of supplying and maintaining relevant documents or ensuring compliance with ever increasingly stringent and irrelevant rules made up by unnecessarily employed graduates who wouldn't otherwise have a meaningful part in the economy of the country.
Many people cite beer duty as the killer to the licensed trade. Indeed, it is a cost that is significant. But I firmly believe that blaming beer duty for the downfall of the pub is focussing too closely on only one part of the costs that can be attributed to our political leaders. Local authorities raking in fees for licences, and in return simply dreaming up more ways to make our lives complicated, are not only forcing us to pay good money for old rope, but are also asking us to hang ourselves by that very same cord and no doubt flog ourselves with it before we do.
I hope that my slate sale has enabled a charming gentleman to finish his barn conversion. It might have been old slate, but it was good and serviceable and of use to him. We did a deal, shook hands and everyone is happy. Hardknott gets a couple of nice tanks and our customers will get more of our beer.
Licences and permits are needed to ensure unscrupulous dealers can't sell cut price beer to kids. Looking at some places I'm not convinced it really does achieve that aim, but regardless, for the small, honest and responsible trader the costs caused and complexity imposed are completely unreasonable. And, we get absolutely nothing in return that is of value.