Monday, July 14, 2014

Wet Led Woes: the demise of beer only pubs

Colin Valentine, Chair of CAMRA has a very well written and interesting blog.

He's a passionate, well informed and serious appreciator of and writer about beer. 

There is a myth abroad in Britain that wet led pubs have no future. This has been promulgated by the British Beer and Pub Association to get their members off the hook when thousands of wet led pubs are failing all over the country. On the face of it it makes sense.

Two friends of mine who are award winning publicans (I have a LOT of friends who are publicans by the way) announced that they broke a £10K turnover target two weeks ago and that this has been repeated last week. Their pub is a small, privately owned free of tie and wet led (i.e. they don't sell food). Before they took on the lease three years ago this pub was a run down ticking over poor business with seemingly limited potential.

Before they signed the lease on this pub they had been lessees of a tied pubco pub not a million miles away where their business failed, while they had made this pub popular and very busy through their hard work and entrepreneurial endeavour the pubco kept putting up rent and beer prices and this made their business 'not economically viable'. They managed to get out of the toxic pubco lease and get this free of tie pub where they could try out their ideas and work to get themselves into the position they would have been in had the previous agreement not been with a bunch of asset stripping scamming fly by night white collar criminals called a 'tied pubco'.

One thing I really like about the pub sector is that publicans are never the ones with the voice about pubs and what's happening to them.

When something goes wrong in the pub sector the publicans are the last people that anyone comes to to ask: "What do you think is wrong?"

Mind you, on the rare occasions when they do get asked something they usually get it wrong. Antony Worral Thompson got onto a Dispatches programme a few years back (I think it was called 'Calling Time on the English Pub' or something like), because he was 'a pub operator' and he talked total and utter bollocks with great authority, pretty much proving that he had done little homework about the pub sector before he went into pubs, and his business folded within a few months of the programme.

Maybe no journalists or pundits wants to hear the deceitful story of cynical white collar criminal activity in asset stripping our cultural heritage. It needs to be more sexy, upbeat or downright scandalous rather than by a tale of stealth and smoke and mirrors in plain sight to make a good story.


  1. If it's criminal then surely it's a matter for the police, not just journalists and pundits.Have any convictions been reported, or even complaints made to the police and crime references obtained?
    In any case your hypothesis that it's all down to the pub companies doesn't account for the former free houses which are now offices, shops, care homes or grass covered rubble mounds.

  2. Lame.

    Even though you are anonymous and a curmudgeon I'll point out the obvious that nothing you say makes what the pubco's are doing right. Slavery was completely acceptable practice for centuries. That didn't make undulging in enslaving other human beings right or just. What the private equity greed and debt driven pubco's are doing to our pubs is a cultural crime that is seriously damaging the fabric of British society. This period will be looked back at as an irresponsible gorging of the national heritage for pure greed on the cusp of a time when the exact opposite - investment and innovation - should be happening in communities all over the country.

    1. So it's not criminal activity in the sense of breaching any law, just criminal in your subjective opinion (and you don't address the free trade closure point at all).
      If all the pubs that we had in 2012 were still open then the same business would be spread over about 20% more pubs - this would of course force some to close.
      Demographics,greater choice of uses for the leisure pound, more home drinking - all these things contribute to closures; it's not all about pubcos.

    2. No it's not ALL about pubco's but pubco's are at the centre of it all, charging their tenants over market rents and double the price for their beer supplies they would be paying if they could buy in the open market.

      Slavery was criminal in many people's subjective opinion. But the bleeding obvious eventually won over. We live with the shame, habits and cultural echos of that era still.

      In 2007, at industry shindigs in Parliament called to see how we can 'get pubs working again', mentioning the beer tie and the pubco's was not allowed. You'd be called to order. Now it's rare to find a politician anywhere who talks like you because they are so much better informed than you appear to be. Consequently the white collar criminal moniker is quite rightly moving towards sticking. It's only a matter of time.

      To reiterate: It is MOSTLY about pubco's though, and you know it, and you can deny it as much as you want here or anywhere else but it doesn't change what is happening and is obvious to most people, the news now gets out everywhere, the scars of their meddling asset stripping activities are in plain sight and people can now see with their own eyes and remember the local news stories and begin to read the British landscape properly.

      Punch leases direct to Tesco, Enterprise is flogging pubs off wherever possible, Greene King has been shedding pubs left right and centre and Marston's sold 200 in one go to be turned into alternative use. There's loads more of it going on - they're all up to it - getting out of tied leased model and moving toward managed estates. That's the most sure sign they know the game is up and the gravy train will be hitting buffers.

      I watched the film 'The Monuments Men' last night IMdB describe it thus:

      "An unlikely World War II platoon is tasked to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their owners."

      George Clooney wrote and directed the film and says this in it:

      "If you destroy an entire generation of people’s culture, it’s as if they never existed. That’s what Hitler wants and it’s the one thing we can’t allow"

      And I realised, properly for the first time, that is exactly how I feel about pubs. You, whoever you are, are not similarly affected. You're not a publican are you? No. Thought not. You're an armchair expert.

    3. Article in Burton Mail about the above Marston's sale to New River. Asset stripping going on apace.

      Villagers stage protest after future of pub thrown into doubt

      Read more:

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  4. Leaving aside the rhetoric and grocer's (or even grocers') apostrophes your position seems to be that pubs should never be transferred to alternative use.

    Why not; there has been movement the other way - notably by JDW - and there's nothing to stop entrepreneurs buying up unlicensed property now and turning it into pubs if there's a decent return in it.

    But do you really wish that there were still the same number of pubs around that there were in 1992 (20% more than today) doing essentially the same total business as 2014's number? Don't forget that 20% of free traders earn less than £15k pa.

    I find that it's better to comment on what people say rather than who they are, but as far as I understand it, you're not a publican either!!

  5. As I said on the other matter - if you don't want to debate the issues that's fine with me.