Saturday, October 08, 2011

Urban 75 again

I posted initially because a conversation was started here by others speculating about 'my' pub's closure which could benefit from some informed response. Far from seeking sympathy my hope is to inform as many people as possible about what is happening to pubs all over the UK - using the Sun and Doves' as example seems to make sense as it's the direct result of widespread abuse of the beer tie by one pubco whose behaviour is identical to other pubco's whose sole aim is to asset strip the national pub estate without any form of direct investment in the bricks and mortar. Quite a lot of pubs have been closing and it's not all cheap booze from supermarkets, the smoking ban, beer duty and changing consumer habits. A lot of it is because so many tied pubs do not make enough profit to be able to reinvest in the business - because the rent and beer prices imposed by the pubco's are so high.

slowjoe; there have been no intentional histrionics on my part. It has been a tough time for a long time but I don't feel especially hard done by - my experience is similar to that of thousands of other tied tenants. The experience of many years of tenure and two seemingly irrationally aggressive rent reviews led to my learning more about the tied system than many other tied publicans just because I managed to stay in business longer than most because the pub was busier than most I had to endure it for longer. These experiences of the tie's abuse to a pub business led me to being outraged by the lie of being 'partnership' with a tied pubco and drove me to setting up the Fair Pint Campaign with other tied pubco tenants who were financially struggling and similarly disaffected by their experiences of pubco's.

After ten years the length of this involvement with a struggling business certainly led to my finding day to day business at the pub grindingly difficult to be engaged and positive about, I struggled with depression for a long time and was suicidal for a period. Going into work was not easy... I'm NOT seeking sympathy - just recounting what happened. From 2006, because there was no profit, I was unable to draw income directly from the business. That sort of thing doesn't make you feel very good as an employer really but I know many tied pub tenants in the same situation. The Sun and Doves was on the market for three years after the rent review began because the only way I could have paid the back rent bill when the inevitable rise hit was from the proceeds of a sale - but once the rent review went a year past deadline there was little point in selling because all proceeds would have been swallowed by back rent and trade debt and left me bankrupt anyway. By that point all I could do was either hand the keys back, walk away and go bankrupt, or plough on determinedly with arguments for why the rent should NOT increase and hope that Arbitration or High Court would agree with my rational position about the business's ability to pay against the flimsy, groundless, but habitually accepted arguments presented by the pubco. Essentially the pubco won in the end but the arguments used were the basis of the Fair Pint Campaign's position which has since been adopted into recommendations for reform of the pub sector by Select Committee. Not a bad result overall really.

So slowjoe undressed worked for me and was met with indifferent treatment by his employer. My apologies slowjoe. The point you make about the impact of the beer tie on a business's ability to pay its staff is a good one - although I didn't bring it up above I did make this point as part of my written evidence to government Select Committee hearings: the direct impact of my 2000 rent review, where rent increased 68% was that we had to cease table service and go to 'order from the bar' and make several staff redundant. Until that point we paid well over the minimum wage but as fixed costs increased the business's ability to pay ahead of the minimum wage waned as profit became non existent through a combination of higher beer supply prices and a huge simultaneous increase in rent and business rates. That being said I know that many people who worked at The Sun and Doves had a different experience to yours slowjoe but since you bring it up I have no doubt that I was distracted and uninterested, I'm sure for a long time. Sorry. Longer serving staff earned more and general staff retention was always consistently well ahead of industry average. When the pub shut, of eleven people we had three staff who worked seven or more years and several others who'd been there for three.

While ringo has had loads of consistently awful experiences along with all his friends who repeatedly were served shit food by shit people who treated him and his mates 'like shit' - well ringo - shit happens - and there were undoubtedly ups and downs over the years. Sorry the pub was not as perfect as you'd expect. But while you went through all that shit there were many more people who had consistently good experiences who were regular and frequent customers. So thanks ringo for inviting an opportunity to respond to your sensitive and insightful overview. Perhaps you will have the opportunity to become a landlord for someone someday. Given your grasp of the property situation you might like to take some hints from the tied pubco handbook.

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