Friday, February 08, 2008

The Moment I Became a Pro Pubs, People and Places Campaigner

8 February 2008

The original piece on Morning Advertiser 'Beer Tie Attacked on Radio 4' was the usual whitewash of a whitewash. There was no debate in the interview that had Andrew Pring, editor of the Morning Advertiser, Jonathan Neame boss of Shepherd Neame and Mike Bell, publican and Enterprise Inns' lessee at The Portobello Gold. Mike barely got a word in and the issue of why so many pubs were closing was jovially brushed off by Neame and Pring with Mike saying in the background 'this is a serious issue - people who are running really successful pubs are being put of business by their pubco's'.  It prompted me to make my first ever post on the MA forum (below) on a Friday evening. Across the weekend it got a huge number of responses from licensees all over the UK, well over a hundred posts.  The comments have all been removed as MA became PMA and they archived everything so no useful timeline.

Piece in MA 14.02.2008 following the You and Yours programme

Sent this to The Morning Advertiser following a whitewash report in that rag about a whitewash article about the pub business on the radio 4 programme 'You and Yours'


I spent an hour on the phone today calling the You and Yours feedback line (0800 044 044) saying I want the right to reply to this programme (with a couple of other publican friends with tied leases) because it gave such a distorted view and misrepresentation of the industry as it stands today.

Mike Bell's contribution could hardly be called an 'attack' on the tied pub system.

The overall feel of the piece was: times are hard for publicans because of:

a) high beer prices due to successive tax increases
b) competition from supermarkets (that one again?)
c) there being too many pubs and not enough customers (because of a and b) and finally
d) loads of people in the pub business are crap at business and they, sadly, with all these pressures around are bound to fail.

The PubCo's got off incredibly lightly. Any criticism of PubCo's was effectively brushed off by both Jonathan Neame and Andrew Pring. Mike Bell being friendly toward Andrew confused me slightly because I didn't know who he was until later but from what Andrew was saying on the programme I really thought he must be a PubCo representative. I was shocked when Steve on the BBC feedback line told me he was from the Morning Advertiser. Still there you go.

The fact that that PubCo's do not pass their huge beer volume discounts on to their estate and charge their tenants completely rip off prices for beer was not even mentioned.

The fact that they are incredibly aggressive in rent reviews was not brought up at all.

The fact that they give no structural support whatsoever to publicans and lessees was not mentioned.

The fact that the PubCo industry expects, as a matter of course, lessees to:
1) invest heavily in 'their' business
2) work 70 hour weeks
3) live in for free and regard that as 9K a year income
4) take on ALL responsibility for the maintenance, repair, upkeep and, actually, improvement of the PubCo's estate
5) devolve ALL responsibility for insurance, ALL incoming legislation, All health & safety issues etc etc.

All this and more while giving no support of any tangible kind to the lessee - none of this was touched on in the programme.

And to add insult to injury (and injustice) WE - that's all the publicans across the land who are working their bollocks, asses and fannies off to pay their rent and ridiculous spiralling beer prices to make sure people like Giles Thorley get paid more than £11,000,000 yes, that is ELEVEN MILLION POUNDS, or £1,300 for every pub in the estate, and his henchmen BDM's, or whatever crock name they are given, bonuses, company car, free trips to all sporting do's golf days free booze, six weeks holiday and never work a weekend lifestyle, I say WE are told the WE are crap at business and that's why we're having a hard time.

Andrew Pring said pubs in London are doing really well. Even pubs that don't do food and pubs with no outside area. Oh yeah? Prove it Andrew. My pub's in London. I'm award winning, I do food, I have outside areas, I spent £100K of my own money (all borrowed from banks) before the smoking ban and my customers love it. I work like a dog and I'm JUST getting by. All around me I see pubs without all that behind them and thay are dropping like flies mate. CLOSING. SHUTTING DOWN. Boarded up. FOR sale or otherwise just empty and waiting for the inevitable.

'the pub trade's biggest challenge is to recruit abler retailers...? 'If people see that running a pub is a difficult business... people and not making much money... pubcos have to help people...' ? this is all pie in the sky stuff Andrew. Hot air that does no justice top the people who are in the trade already being given NO support by their freeholders. The Freeholders take NO RISK. ALL the risk is on the side of the people that operate their pubs. I defy ANYONE to prove me wrong.

Andrew Pring should know a hell of a lot better, being so close to the trade; but perhaps that's why he doesn't.

Jonathan Neame said there's no way to talk about 'tied leases' because there are so many different models - each PubCo has its own version blah blah blah. Well Mr Neame. I have worked in this trade for twenty years and in the last ten I have not met one, not a SINGLE, person who has a tied lease or a tenancy of any description on a single outlet who's said anything other than 'the PubCo has got me by the short and curlies'. Of course no one's going to say that to Jonathan's face because he probably never meets anyone on the shop floor and if he does they're probably doffing a cap to him. What else could be expected from someone who's at the top of a feudal system, patriarchal though Shepherd Neame may be by comparison with Enterprise, Punch, Green King, S&NPE and the other bigger outfits.

Mike Bell, well Mike said some of the right things but didn't get his message across and anything incisive he did manage to squeeze in between all the pontification from the propubco lobby was countered by the others' slightly jocular 'oh it'll be alright when the trade's all shaken out and the crap licensees are down the pan' attitude. It was a bloody whitewash.

On a lighter note, The Black Swan - what's going to happen to their rent when the PubCo sees their 'diversification' and own enterprise has netted them an increase in profit? They'll rentalise the Prince's Trust's investment.

There you are. That's a bit more of an attack on the beer tie. Nowhere near comprehensive enough and not enough swearing I reckon.

I won't get it all off my chest until my BDM gives me an idea I can work on or a piece of product support I can actually use and the pubco admits they are ripping me off and that my rent should go down instead of go up by 40K.

No comments:

Post a Comment