Sunday, 19 May 2013

Puppet on a string?

As a preface to this post here are the lyrics to Puppet on a String ... well, after all, it has been Eurovision Song Contest time and by the time you've read what follows you'll understand... anyway, to battle! 

An interesting piece of opinion came my way from Neil Morgan, head of pubs at Christie+Co, estate agents to the pub trade, on the subject of Assets of Community Value (ACV) in respect of pubs. In his piece, published on various blogs and in various newsletters, he quite rightly points out that for all pubs threatened with closure the ACV route is, in many cases, a pipe dream for those who attempt to save their local from development into alternative use, such as "convenience retailing" or residential projects.

I take some issue, however, with some of his analysis of the unintended consequences he posits as "hampering the pace of economic recovery" as the process can put a "substantial block on the transactional process". 

Or to put it another way random redevelopment of parts of the national pub estate being delayed by six months to allow local communities to "jump on the 'save our pub' bandwagon" is going to be what? The final straw that breaks the British economy's back? Will the technocrats from the OECD, the IMF, and The World Bank be sweeping into Westminster to subjugate the democratic will of the people because a few greedy corporate types have had to put some demolitions or building work on hold?

I think not, after all many of these pubs have been systematically under-invested and over-rented in a cold-blooded policy of marginalisation to prepare them for sale for alternative use; a process, which, can in many cases take several years. So what's the sodding hurry now Neil? Instructions from clients a bit thin on the ground at the moment?

Christie+Co have conducted a survey with "convenience store operators and some tenanted pub companies" (which, by the way should have taken them all of about 3 hours - a couple of calls to Punch, Enterprise, Tesco, Sainsburys, Waitrose etc) to find out "what the major problems they face in terms of trading business" are. And get this, according to Morgan, in terms of trading businesses "by far the biggest concern to them were delays in planning, which listing all threatened pubs as ACVs will surely add to".

So let me get this right matey, the biggest concern to the likes of Tesco et al isn't fuel and food price inflation, it's not the mountains of red-tape that often constrain business in the UK (be it large or small) it’s the 300 pubs who Morgan reckons "CAMRA and their equally well-intentioned friends in Parliament" believe can be saved from closure or alternative use that are taxing the board, executives and shareholders of UK retail plc? Come off it you patronising dolt.

Whilst I will admit when the clarion call of 'save our pub' is heard it "masks the former disinterest of punters" as Morgan puts it in his ever-not so subtle put down of local communities and his hope they will become thriving businesses. (For those of you old enough to remember, you'll understand why I can hear the voice of Hughie Green "And I mean that most sincerely"). I have no issue with his point of view to a certain extent, it is his assertion pubs should not be considered as of greater 'community value' than a convenience store, as the latter bring jobs and affordable housing to communities where no such opportunities exist I have a problem with. (Still, I suppose for Chrisite+Co 'opportunity knocks'........... down pubs.)

Are we really to believe the likes of Tesco put more into the communities they serve than pubs? Lest we not forget their former chief executive, Sir Terry Leahy who believes the closure of corner shops and their replacement with his brand of convenience store is "part of progress". Drone strikes instead of (wo)manned bomber planes are also reckoned to be progress by some, doesn't mean they're right or moral.

The Institute for Public Policy Research paper "Pubs and places: The social value of community pubs" has this to say:

"At the same time, pubs are not just about beer, if everyone visited a pub to drink alcohol on their own, a definitive component of pub culture would be lost. The community pub at its heart is an institution for social drinking and it is from fulfilling that function that so many of its positive benefits flow."

… they also reckon community pubs put some £80,000 a year into their local economies.

The New EconomicsFoundation (NEF), an independent economic think tank based in London, compared what happens when people buy produce at a supermarket vs. a local farmer's market or community supported agriculture (CSA) program and found that twice the money stayed in the community when folks bought locally. "That means those purchases are twice as efficient in terms of keeping the local economy alive," says author and NEF researcher David Boyle. I would venture to say money spent in pubs is of similar value.

This self-serving crony (Morgan not Boyle) of property companies such as Punch/Enterprise and facilitator of cultural vandalism by the ever expanding supermarket chains even has the temerity to suggest his view, expounded in 1999, that the "UK pub sector was over-populated to the tune of 10,000 pubs" . His assertion "customers have decided with their feet that around 7,000 pubs are obsolete" since then, has really put my dander up.

I first read this promulgation on Friday (17th), it has taken me this much time to simmer down and not print something wholly libellous or at the very least utterly offensive. However, I still have to say to Morgan "WTF?" … your company has a vested interest in the sale of pubs to developers etc through the handsome fees you charge so of course suggesting (you will note from the implied arithmetic) a further 3,000 pubs have to go is going to be your mantra … it has been for some time.

We're also treated to the view that the market has spoken "as customers have decided with their feet that around 7,000 pubs are obsolete". But hang on Mr Morgan, surely it hasn't only been consumer choice to blame for record numbers of pub closures? Could the crippling level of duty imposed by this and previous administrations been partly to blame? Couldn't the need of some of your corporate clients to divest themselves of huge swathes of property to service the gargantuan levels of debt they have accumulated be partly to blame? Maybe, and I only say just maybe, perhaps the introduction of the smoking ban has had some effect? Here's another thought could it be the irresponsible alcohol sales policies of the major supermarkets have been a significant factor in the decimation of the national pub estate?

Your hatchet job on the thousands of hard-working publicans who have through no fault of their own, lost everything to the morally bankrupt business models of zombie pubcos such as Punch and Enterprise and the whims of misguided legislation is a wilful calumny of nose-stretching proportions. As for blaming communities, who have no say in the disposal of their social amenities, for not supporting the run-down 'bottom end' of the market after years of deliberate ruination of those very same amenities by some of your clients is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Your belief so eloquently articulated as "natural shrinkage in pub numbers, leaving only the best and better-supported pubs", to mask yours and others' corporate strategy, implies the fault lies with operators and their customers; and, sorry but I just don't believe the loss of some 7,000 pubs is anywhere near natural shrinkage

I despair of your dystopian future there will be no room for the likes of Orwell's "Moon Under Water" or the 3,000 other pubs you consider to be less than "the best"… there will only be room for the homogenous offering of big-brand managed outlets… oh and ever more TescoExpress, MacDonalds' DriveThru, SainsburyLocal and housing only the few can afford.

Much as it pains me to praise our current bunch of politicians, it is to the credit of the coalition that the Localism Act and the introduction of ACVs for pubs, the scrapping of the infamous beer duty escalator and the proposed regulation of the pubcos goes somewhat to redress the damage done to our industry by the 'unintended consequences' of the original Beer Orders that have benefited both Christie+Co and their clients at the expense of a once sustainable industry.

You talk of the increasing "staying at home Sky+ effect" being to blame … I believe it is the "Christie+" effect… whereby another bunch of spivs try to squeeze  every last drop of value from a vulnerable industry and hang the social or long-term economic effects of what they do, who are more to blame.

As I said, I've taken Mr Morgan to task before for his somewhat cynical views regarding the pubco regulation consultation and the 'need' to reduce the national estate by a further 3,000 pubs and was accused of hiding behind the persona of Publican Sam. Anyone with even a modicum of investigative skill can work out who I am. I have invited him to respond publicly to my questions on here and elsewhere, he's chosen to hide behind the corporate wall of Chrisite+Co's public policy statements.

Anyway nursey has brought me my meds and a modicum of calm has descended on me again, good manners prevent me from fully articulating a message to Neil Morgan, suffice it to say if I were crass enough, it would be an exhortation involving leaving the vicinity, micturation and his status as a puppet for the pubcos. 

It's not often I'll admit to being a bit of a plonker, but having spoken with Neil at length I am happy to withdraw my remarks about Neil. He certainly has as much passion about pubs as I do and I pay tribute to the work he does outside his company with various bodies who endeavour to protect and nurture our industry. 

So... sorry Neil... I will definitely buy you that beer next time I'm free in London.

(BTW this end-piece has not been written under any kind of duress and is freely and genuinely offered up.)

Friday, 17 May 2013

Now showing at a cinema near you...

... if you have your say on the government's pubco/tenant regulation consultation

(Oh, okay then, it's 29 days as of today... but I'm away for a family birthday bash/reunion this weekend and don't expect to be up to blogging... needless to say it will involve at least one visit to the pub...)

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

New Dinoasaur Species Fossil Found In Solihull ...

Ted Tuppen, head of Enterprise Inns is reported as saying the movement of a mere £102 millions of economic value from pubcos to tenants mooted in the current government consultation on pubco regulation will lead to "unintended consequences", such as pubcos not having any incentive to support their tenants.

Amazing how Mr Tuppen can spin anything to his company's benefit. According to my daily email from Langton Capital, reporting on first half figures for Enterprise the support they provide is enumerated thus:
"The group subsidised lessees to the tune of £3m in H1 (no change on last year)"

Note the use of the word subsidised there, one assumes this means rent concessions? Perhaps if the rents being charged were not excessive (along with tied product pricing) no such subsidy would be required... oh, but wait... isn't that the point of the consultation and proposed regulation?

This £3 millions subsidy is presumably continued in H2, thus leading to an annual subsidy of £6 millions? If so the mean average subsidy across the estate is of the order of £1,049 per pub. Not the £10,000 per pub quoted by Mr Tuppen.

More from the Enterprise report:
"Capital spending is now less defensive in nature; it should settle at around £60m per annum"

Is this the £10,000 per pub per year "support" Tuppen speaks of? Sorry but capital expenditure on the fabric of ones own bricks and mortar can hardly be described as "support" for ones tenants.

If one reads elsewhere on Publican's Morning Advertiser about the number of tenants claiming tax credits, a fair proportion of whom are likely to be Enterprise tenants, then perhaps the natural conclusion is, despite their best efforts some tenants simply cannot earn enough to live on without being "subsidised" by other taxpayers. Hardly evidence that the existing pubco model is sustainable, let alone fair, and is only evidence for the urgent need of reform as championed by #fairdeal4yourlocal .

As for "unintended consequences" ... well those arising from the original Beer Orders, which, allowed the rise of such debt-laden behemoths as Enterprise have been pretty horrific for the national estate ... a 30% loss of pubs since the early 1980s.

Does anyone think things could become more dire for tied tenants if Tuppens portents of doom become manifest, as opposed to the "last chance saloon" mutterings of the dinosaur from Solihull?

I think not ... unless Tyranosaurus Tuppen would like to elaborate on his comments, one can only hope that T.Tup is in the same evolutionary dead end as T.Rex ...

Thursday, 9 May 2013

One step forward, two steps back...

Publicans have a lot to thank MPs for recently... instigating the consultation into regulating the dreaded pubcos, scrapping the beer duty escalator (even though they introduced it in the first place) ... but some of them really haven't got a clue as reported in Chin Chin ...

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Not The Queen's Speech ...

The pomp and circumstance of the state opening of Parliament by The Queen may seem anachronistic but it does give 'Joe Public' an intimation of what Her Majesty's Government is going to be springing on us in the not to distant future.

More importantly it's what's not in the speech that can sometimes matter ... 
"Just because something is not in the Queen's speech does not mean the government can't bring it forward as law, but we have not made a decision,"
(In an interview on the Today program on BBC Radio Four, with the wonderfully combative John Humphrys, touching on minimum pricing for alcohol, Jeremy Hunt esteemed Secretary for Health stressed that no final decisions had been taken).

Perhaps it's because of propoganda from the health lobby such as this Guardian newspaper report in which it's claimed by researchers in Canada that minimum pricing reduces alcohol harms and hospital admissions; something neo-prohibitionsists have been touting for a long time.

Interesting then to see this response from Miles Beale of the Wine and Spirit Trade Association

"The Institute of Alcohol Studies claims evidence from Canada shows minimum unit pricing for alcohol brings significant health benefits. Using their own estimates of population attributable fractions, researchers in British Columbia say between 2002 and 2009 a 10% increase in average minimum price was associated with a 32% fall in alcohol-related deaths. But actual hospital records show that the number of alcohol-related deaths in British Colombia in that period went up – from 1,073 to 1,169."
"There is another problem. One state, Alberta, does not have controls on the sale of alcohol, but shows no discernible difference in drinking patterns and health harms compared with the rest of Canada. This shows there is no simple link between alcohol price and harm, and that cultural factors are the most likely indicators of consumption patterns"

Dr Perry Kendall, British Columbia's provincial health officer, makes this damning acknowledgement that provincial governments in Canada have introduced a minimum price  for alcohol:
"mainly to bring in money rather than to protect public health". 
It simply won't do for mainstream media to perpetuate the myth that minimum pricing for alcohol is the panacea for the societal problems of alcohol (mis)use ... so my hat's off to Mr Beale for pointing this out. 

Pubs, as responsible retailers, have huge restrictions put on them regarding promotional pricing etc, yet the off-trade (principally the major supermarket chains) are allowed free rein to peddle 'pocket-money' priced booze. 

Surely the myths, half-truths and sometimes outright falsehoods trotted out by the health lobby mustn't be allowed to influence politicians to introduce minimum pricing in England & Wales, if they do it won't be pubs that benefit (after all we're already pricing well above the mooted 45p per unit), not will it be brewers. It will only be the likes of supermarkets that benefit from this multi-billion pound windfall.

You can bet your bottom dollar they won't be using any such government largesse to fund alcohol awareness programs, reduce the price of healthy food options, introduce a living wage for their employees languishing on minimum wages or pay increased tax revenues for the Treasury it their accountants have anything to do with it.

I know it's only Wednesday but ... Nurse! Meds! Stat!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Market Intelligence Report

The latest Market Intelligence report on the How To Rub A Pub website is on market research into the use of vouchers by UK "out of home diners" you can find it by clicking here.

For more on vouchers, here's an earlier piece on the subject: " Woucher or Oucher ? "

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Hot off the press ...

To get future editions delivered directly to your inbox ...

Thursday, 2 May 2013

A Fair Deal for Your Local ...

Today sees the launch of Fair Deal for Your Local ... so if you run a tied pub, drink in a tied pub or supply a tied pub then show your support by joining the campaign. 

As you can see there's a bloody big button over there top right ... click it ... yes click it now!

Help put a stop to the abuse of the beer tie and tied tenants by pubcos and some brewers ... in addition to the campaign resources at   
here are some additional things: 

If you have a Twitter account and want to show your support (even for a day, before June 14th when the consultation ends) please change your profile header to this:

If you have a Facebook page you can show your support by using this:

... and finally for good old fashioned poster lovers:

Wednesday, 1 May 2013