So Vince Cable is finally going to do something. Don’t get me wrong, I quite like the man. Through prescient knowledge or serendipity, he was one of the few voices of sense as the banking crisis hit and the world plunged into what seems to be a generational recession. And his Ballroom isn’t bad. But he seems to be a provoker – someone who critiques, and does so ably, but seems less comfortable when it comes to having to make decisions. Years in opposition, perhaps.
But now he is going to clamp down on some of the nefarious practises of the pub cos. And about time too. I once sat in a pub in the Lake District chatting to a two brothers about their respective businesses. One was a pub manager. He could survive, just, complaining that whilst he could buy the brewery’s beer from a wholesaler cheaper, overall he didn’t get a bad deal on rent and the brewery looked after the pub. Not so for the Licensee (or Lessee) – he had a pub owned by one of the big PubCos and was on his knees. He broke his back building the business up and his reward for increasing turnover? Higher rent – significantly higher rent. His beer was even more expensive that the Managed Pub and the PubCo had installed a system to stop him from ‘buying out’ (buying from suppliers other than the PubCo). On some bottled brands, they even had PubCo specific labels so the local management could spot if he’d bought his Bud from Tesco or whereever. The same in my village – still blessed with 5 pubs but one, the jewel in the crown until recently stood empty and decaying precisely because the entrepreneurial couple who had built it up got screwed over by the pub company with ridiculous rent rises (and in fact, in recent weeks, a second one, from a different company stands empty for a similar reason).
Look, Beer Tinted isn’t Rose Tinted about this. My firm belief is that a smaller pub ‘universe’ in the UK will be a good thing. We can’t ignore the fact that the way we spend our lives and social time is changing. We can’t ignore the fact that whilst 100 years ago, people wanted to escape their homes, today they don’t. Today, in the main, our houses are comfy, warm, have entertainment, feature indoor toilets and running water. The night soil man no longer has to call. We take it for granted how much we have moved on in a staggeringly short time.
Yet it doesn’t mean that our pubs deserve the behaviour of many of the PubCos. In fact, most are not pub co’s at all. They’re property companies and when the balloon was inflating they were raking it in, but now it’s popped. The sure knowledge that they could run a crap pub but still pay a healthy dividend has gone too – thank goodness. The b’stards now need to work for their money and I for one only hope that Mr Cable’s reforms enshrine the law in favour of the free house. Of course, just like the Beer Orders, there will be unintended consequences for the intellectually swift and action orientated business type, but at least we’ll get Pub Companies and Publicans who care about their Public.
© Beer Tinted Spectacles, January 2013