Monday, 10 June 2013

Pop up tents and the pubco business model...

Somewhere in the hallowed halls of Westminster, tomorrow morning (11th June), the Business Industry and Skills committee will hold an "evidence session" on the consultation into the pubco/tenant relationship and possible statutory regulation of the former.

Luminaries from the pub trade from both landlord and tenant organisations have been invited and they will, no doubt, be rehearsing their submissions at length and in detail. Whilst there may have been changes in the make-up of the committee and in the organisations represented it will be very much 'the same old faces' trotting out the same old arguments for and against government intervention into our industry.

The consultation itself closes on Friday (14th June) and then begins the three month task of sifting through submissions and evidence supplied by both sides. The tenant side of the issue has recently been well articulated by CAMRA (whose recent survey found that huge numbers of tied tenants continue in penury at the hands of their respective landlords) & Fair Deal 4 Your Local has been on the road to Wales to get the message out amongst the public and the trade. 

Strange then there's been relatively little public comment by the likes of Punch, Enterprise, Greene King, Admiral, Star Pubs et al? If their business model is so good for the industry and for their tenants wouldn't you expect there to have been a massive PR campaign to bring home the message of the benefits of their much touted "low cost entry" model? Maybe they've just keeping their powder dry for the actual consultation and their respective submissions? One would like to think the usual mouthpieces have fallen silent as they realise, despite their habitual mantra and the shining examples of self-regulation (PIRRS and PICAS), the game is up for the pubcos.

Having had four select committee investigations and reports into the pubcos over the last decade, and what must have been mountains of evidence from both sides, I for one cannot understand the need to discuss the consultation, or is one side or the other about to call foul of the process?

The simple fact is, if despite enjoying an annual turnover in excess of £500,000 a tied tenant (or over 40% of them) cannot earn more than £15,000 whilst their landlord earns four times as much from the same business then something is very wrong. The over-arching principle of "a tied tenant being no worse off than a free of tie tenant" is a simple evocation of what we as a society have strived for in many areas of our lives... equality of opportunity. It's as evocative as "no child left behind" beloved of educators or the "no man left behind" ethos of the marine commando. In short it's a fair deal for your local, oh wait, that's the name of the campaign to ensure pubco reform is a matter of legislation and regulation. 

It's not just about a fair deal for the publican, it's about a fair deal for their families (many of whom have been left destitute at the hands of the pubcos); it's about a fair deal for their customers who pay over-inflated prices (because of the unsustainable rents and eye-watering prices pubcos make their tenants pay for their tied products); it's about a fair deal for tax-payers, be they pub-goers or not, who pay out millions of pounds of tax credits to tied pub tenants who cannot make a decent living out of their pubs; it's about a fair deal for both parties, the pubco landlord for their capital and the tied tenant for their entrepreneurial skill and labour.

Who would have thought in the early part of the 21st century, a 19th century principle of Marxism would be applied by a cross-party parliamentary committee and a government department of a Tory-led administration... to wit the balancing of risk and reward of labour and capital? It warms the cockles of a barely un-reconstructed ex-student socialist to witness, what I hope will be,  another nail in the coffin of unfettered capitalism.

If you need a reason to take part in the consultation, as a tied tenant, as someone thinking of entering into a tied tenancy/lease, as a customer or supplier of a tied pub then remember this: when the pubco says its model is one of "low cost entry" it always forgets to mention it can, in all too many cases, be a "high cost exit". 

Pubco tenancies and leases are a bit like the pop-up tents we like to use at music festivals, they seem like a good idea at the beginning, but are a bastard to deal with when it's time to go. They don't cost as much as a full-on frame tent, anyone can erect them with the minimum of training and for the pubco landlord they're the ultimate disposable asset. However, in the same way they litter the Glastonbury site after the festival, so the commercial landscape of the pub industry is littered with the abandoned pop-up tents of pubco tenancies... the only trouble is that whilst a festival goer's hangover dissipates in a couple of hours, the hapless tied tenant's hangover can last a life-time.

So go on, head on over to the consultation's website and complete the online submission and ensure your local tied pub(lican) gets a fair deal... three minutes of your time, surely you can manage that?

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