The recent e-mail from Jackie Parker, the National Chairman Elect of CAMRA, is well-meaning in its focus on the future of the organisation, but for me it set the alarm bells ringing. In some ways it reminded me of the business problems of Conviviality and failed retailers i.e. the dangers of over-expansion in the face of turnover decline.
The e-mail states,”….we cannot ignore the fact our membership growth is in decline.” Quite right and it’s good to admit your income problems. More importantly, the next step has to be to address spending…as the organisation has earlier had to do as a supposedly short term measure. Colin Valentine admitted a lack of beer festival income was a problem in this regard. It’s therefore fact that CAMRA has a problem with membership and beer festival income. Unfortunately CAMRA’s glass is half empty.
Parker’s e-mail went on, “It is important we maintain income from our beer festivals and the selling of our books, merchandise and membership subscriptions which are essential to fund our campaigning.” To me this flies in the face of financial reality. There isn’t a reasonable prospect of maintaining festival income and membership subscriptions. Whichever way the Revitalisation vote goes, the income problems and a declining active volunteer base will not go away. They may get worse.
Spending levels have to be addressed and that inevitably means a refocusing of the organisation on a narrower field of activities. As a result I have significant concerns with the following section of the email. “We will remain totally committed to real ale, cider, perry, and to pubs and clubs. We also need to reach out to all beer, cider and perry drinkers…” That is unjustified expansion. Instead I think it’s time to work hard on what has to go.
In my view, CAMRA has long-term financial issues going forward. The experiences of other businesses would suggest that going for expansion is a dangerous game when faced with declining income. I hope that I’m wrong but I suspect not.