Friday, 27 April 2018

The Gothenburg licensing System (part one)

The Gothenburg system was often held up in Britain as an example of an alternative - and better - way of running pubs.

The basic tenet being that there should be no financial incentive to the person running the pub to sell more alcohol. Instead they would receive a share in the profits on sales of non-alcoholic drinks and food.

This article gives a little background into why the original system in the Swedish city of Gothenburg was set up and what had preceded it. First, how things worked before it was set up.

"The Gothenburg licensing System.
A LITTLE pamphlet dealing with this subject is the result of a visit by Mr. R. Mortimer to Gothenburg, whither he was sent by the Country Brewers' Society, to make an inquiry into the real working of the licensing system adopted there. The author first briefly describes the manner in which licences were granted before the present system came into vogue. Under the old system “which was in existence up to the year 1865, the town authorities owned all the licences, and put them up to public aution, some being sold for a term of one year, and others for a term of three years; and upon the expiration of the term for which they were sold they were again put up to auction—the result being that the purchasers naturally made every effort during their term to sell as much liquor as they could, in order to recoup themselves for their outlay. There were also certain ‘privileged' houses, whose licences did not expire in this manner, but which were granted usually for the life of the holder. It should be borne in mind that the liquor almost exclusively sold was called Bränvin (the native brandy)-—a strong liquid drunk undiluted, which cost six öre, or something less than 0.5d. per liqueur glass, and which was the favourite and ordinary drink of the working classes. The result of this system was that something like one person in every seven of the population was, during one year, convicted of drunkenness, accompanied by violent or disorderly conduct, as without such the police have no authority to arrest."
The Brewers' Guardian 1893, page 2.
 That does sound like a recipe for disaster. Publicans would have to work mostly on a very short-term basis and need to recoup their investment quickly. Selling lots of booze would seem to be the logical approach for them.

This is what replaced it:

"Mr. Mortimer next proceeds to deal somewhat extensively with the present system, which was started in October, 1865, a licensing company being formed with the following objects :—-“(1) Of controlling the sale of this Bränvin to the working classes; (2) of bringing the Bränvin shops under strict control ; (3) of improving the quality of the spirit; (4) of raising the price of the spirit; (5) of opening eating-houses where food of good quality and at a cheap rate (meat or fish, bread, and potatoes for 3d.) could be obtained, and at which the supply of Branvin was limited to two glasses a head ; and (6) of establishing a system which, as far as the sale of this Bränvin was concerned, would give no opportunities of private gain, and by the unattractiveness of the premises offer no inducement to customers to loiter.” With regard to the finances of the company, the highest authorised capital was £11,000, and the present amount of capital called up is £5,700. The shares are sometimes sold on the market, but cannot be held by anyone except with the authority of the directors. Under the original grant of licences by the town authorities referred to below, a statutory rate of 6 per cent. only was to be paid to the shareholders, and the balance of profit was to be paid to the town authorities to be devoted to the betterment of the working classes. But in 1868 the town authorities insisted upon devoting the profits — which have averaged £30,000 a year — towards the reduction of the local rates. In 1865, under their contract with the new licensing company, the town authorities offered no licences by auction, but handed over forty to the company, seventeen of which they held in abeyance and did not use. The question of compensation, as understood in this country, did not arise. It is, however, a fact that the company, in order to obtain possession of certain of the “privileged ” houses, did pay sums of money, the exact amount of which I was unable to ascertain, to the then licence holders."
The Brewers' Guardian 1893, pages 2 - 3.
 Making premises unattractive, supplying food, limiting the amount of booze customers could drink. It sounds much like what went on in Carlisle during WW I. Which is no coincidence. The Gothenburg system was used as a template.

The "improved public" house movement in the UK between the wars took a slightly different approach. That sought to make pubs more attractive and used by a broader public. As well as providing activities other than drinking, such as bowling greens. A better concept, in my opinion, but one which was opposed by most temperance bastards. They wanted pubs to be as horrible as possible because then they were easier to campaign against.

A more sensible approach might have been to encourage drinkers to witch from spirits to beer. Having spirits as the standard drink is asking for trouble.

Next time we'll have a look at the effect of the Gothenburg system in its home town.

1 comment:

Bacon said...

Fascinating read. I've lived in Gothenburg my whole life, adding up to 48 years by now, and never heard of this system before reading about it on your blog.
Looking forward to the next part!