Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Parliament's 7 year itch

So after seven years of parliamentary scrutiny and investigation into the role of pub companies in the pub industry the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee of the House of Commons has published its latest report into the state of the British pub trade.

Unsurprisingly for anyone who has followed the progress of this committee’s work on this issue the pub companies and breweries get comprehensively slated in pretty strong language.

The 60 page report, with another 104 pages of oral and written evidence from all sides of the industry (the pub companies, brewers, pub landlord organisations, CAMRA, surveyors etc) is unequivocal in its criticism of the activities of pub companies and their refusal to self-regulate and reform.

Prevarication, obfuscation, downright false testimony, distortion and utter contempt for Parliament by the pub companies is the common theme. MPs have come in for a rough ride recently, however, this committee has doggedly pursued the truth much to the credit of its chair, members and staff. Having viewed some of the TV coverage of the committee meetings I found it as compelling as the Media committee’s interrogation of the News International mob.

The pub companies attempts to stave off regulatory control now look to finally have been in vain, some of this has been going on since 2004. The recommendations and conclusions of the committee mean that government intervention in the pub industry is now, all but, inevitable.

Let’s hope that they are able to do something about the worst excesses of some of the pub companies (rents, terms and conditions of business, gaming machine tie, disclosure and transparency, pub company area managers, Codes of Practice, the beer tie) and do it soon.

Far too many hard-working, honest and capable publicans have been forced into penury by the rapacious activities of some of these companies for the status quo to remain. The chair’s final conclusion “…we are firmly of the view that statutory regulation should only be used as a last resort. However, are hand has been forced and we see no other alternative for an industry which has for too long failed to put its own house in order”  results in swift action to bring our much loved industry back into balance where the publican and the brewer/pub company both get a fair share.

I, for one, look forward to some furious back-pedalling and strident protest from the pub companies and trust that Parliament will not be hood-winked again and push on with statutory reform with alacrity.

It’s not only the publicans who are, in some cases, the indentured servants of the pub companies, who will benefit; the consumer will be much better served by increased competition and investment that will flow from reform. For instance the GMB union has calculated that the effect of the pub companies and the beer tie has been to artificially inflate the price of beer by as much as 80p a pint – no wonder the average price of a pint has now shot up to over £3.

Next we need to tackle HMG’s tax raids on the pub industry (duty increases beyond inflation don’t help) and persuade them to support the Thrive on Five Campaign – to reduce VAT in the hospitality industry to 5%. Other countries have taken the lead by reducing VAT for the leisure sector and it has resulted in more jobs, more tax revenues and increased  investment in the industry.

If you’d like to see a reduction in the price you pay for food and drink in your pub then sign the petition here

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