Friday, April 01, 2011

From crisis to renewal: hopes for the history of the pub

Phil's take on history comes across more as an amateur's appraisal of the slide into confused collapse of two huge unsustainable pub companies rather than that of an informed observer offering insight into what's happening to the pub industry as a whole. His nod in the direction of this being the end game for Punch and Enterprise is getting there for part of the picture but to suggest this period will be looked back on as one of renewal rather than of crisis is tantamount to rewriting history as it happens.

What IS happening is that the era of pub history since the Beer Orders is coming to a very messy end. This period has been a slow train wreck for pubs. It IS a period of crisis, and should be written so for the real history books because this time has NOT been about pubs; it's not been about tradition, it’s not been about heritage, it’s not been about the intrinsic value that pubs add to our society and communities and it's nothing to do with pubs being part of the fabric of the British way of life.

No. Since 1989 the story of the pub been purely about corporations working to extract the maximum amount of value and cash for minimum investment while ensuring that most of the investment there has been comes solely from outside the industry in the form of newcomers, new institutional lenders and thousand upon thousand of new lessees putting in their own money while taking on all the responsibilities of running the national pub estate. It’s been a feeding frenzy of corporate vultures tearing the life and soul out of a flock of golden geese.

Look at the state of pubs all over Britain. The leased estates of all pub companies operating the beer tie irresponsibly and unsustainably are in utter disarray. Widespread abuse of the tie has led to gross underinvestment in the bricks and mortar of pubs everywhere.

The only tied pubs that have resisted this inexorable blood letting are those that have been extremely well funded from the outset of the lease and have subsequently far over traded the initial rental expectations of their dunderhead freeholders who have never known how to run a pissup in a brewery but have understood how to bleed a business dry while getting other people to run it for them.

The 'premium' or 'core' pubs that will be left for the pubcos to prey on following the corporate carnage currently being wreaked across the British pub landscape, will be the rump, the last stand of the tied pubco 'model'. They are the cream of the crop, the over-trading pubs, producing great beer volume and turnover due solely to the vision, hard work, business acumen and total professionalism of their lessees. Their success has absolutely nothing to do with the presence of the parasitic pubcos who own them. These pubs survive purely on the cash generated from throughput of product on the back of their own endeavour in the period before the pubcos have got round to rentalise them out of existence. Their actual trading margins are dreadful, depressed by their pubco sucking its unholy share out of the business like a vampire in the cellar.

The beer tie has drained the life out of thousands Britain's pubs and it’s leaving a perpetual gap at the heart of many of our communities. THAT is the legacy of this period and will with time become its history. Long live The Starbucks The Pub is dead.

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