Annual EBHS Conference, 39th Annual Economic and Business History Society Conference

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Drink the deadliest of foes; The UK State Management Scheme 1916-74 an experiment in state sponsored virtue and moderation.
Philip Arthur Talbot

Last modified: 2014-03-10

Abstract


One notable area where social vice and capitalist enterprise continues to collide is in the manufacture and sales of beer by the brewing industry. In the UK during the nineteenth and early twentieth century the ‘drink question’ led the liberal social elite in partnership with the Labour movement to attempt to modify the drinking leisure habits of the working classes. Drinking copious amounts of beer was widespread amongst the working class as a social and leisure activity. This was viewed by the temperance movement as a source of degeneracy leading to poverty although Labour was careful to avoid alienating its working class supporters by not favouring prohibition. Reformers such as the industrialist and philanthropist Joseph Rowntree (1903) whilst not advocating prohibition argued for the public ownership of the liquor trade based on the business principles of the Swedish Gothenburg system and the practice of disinterested management.

Initially unsuccessful these objectives became fulfilled in 1915 at Carlisle and District with the formation of the Liquor Central Board (LCCB) whereby the government compulsorily took over the breweries and public houses in what became known as the ‘Carlisle Experiment’ or the ‘Scheme’ in order to improve sobriety amongst local munitions workers and improve national efficiency during the Great War (1914-18). The traditional private company brewers acquiesced to preserve temporary wartime national unity but were critical post-bellum when the ‘Scheme’ continued under the guise of the State Management Scheme which traded successfully until 1974 after which it was privatised. The ‘Scheme’ by adopting from its genesis a temperance business model was financially successful and in its attempt at innovative social engineering encouraged the political left to advocate its geographical extension both post 1918 and post 1945.

This paper examines from primary and secondary sources what factors ensured that the ‘Scheme’ was successful and those areas where it was less successful and why it endured against concerted opposition from the private brewers and the political right. It also identifies the business and political factors that constrained its wider application and provided for its ultimate demise.