Low incomes, arbitrary rent rises and inflated costs – there is more than a hint of bitterness in the taste under-fire Enterprise Inns and their fellow ‘pubcos’ leave for Reading’s publicans, according to the results of a survey released today by Reading East’s Liberal Democrat Parliamentary campaigner Cllr Gareth Epps.
The survey – conducted in July and August 2009 – received a particularly big response from those running community ‘locals’. 80% of responses came from tenant lessees of ‘pubcos’ such as Enterprise Inns and Admiral Taverns.
Key findings of the survey include:-
- Three-quarters of Reading East’s publicans responding to the survey have an annual income below £15,000 a year.
- Only half think they will be still running a pub in 5 years’ time.
- Rent and running costs are the two biggest worries on publicans’ minds. While Government tax rises on beer duty are disliked, they are not the only problem.
- While drugs and crime are not a significant worry in community pubs, there is a clear view that more could be done to provide training to licensees on stamping out drugs in particular.
- Those running pubs operated by ‘pubcos’ report being forced to pay much more than the market rate for wholesale produce through the ‘tie’ arrangement – sometimes over 50% more – and having equipment installed to snoop in their cellars.
Concerns were also raised about the effects of the smoking ban. Publicans were scathing about the sale by supermarkets of alcohol as a loss-leader, with local councils powerless to take action to stop it.
Gareth says the findings add to the growing pressure on the Labour Government to take action against the pubcos:-
- The Government is to respond this Autumn to the unanimous recommendation of the Business & Enterprise Select Committee to take urgent action against the pubcos to make restrictive covenants forcing pubs to shut illegal, and reforming the tie
- The Office of Fair Trading is due in early October to respond to a consumer ‘super-complaint’ from the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) which adds to the pressure on the tie.
- The ‘Fair Pint’ campaign to reform the pubcos has grown in strength in recent months.
Gareth has shared the findings with the OFT inquiry into the pubcos. He has also discussed the findings with All-Party Save the Pub Parliamentary Group Chair Greg Mulholland MP (Lib Dem, Leeds NW).
With a view towards securing a debate at the Liberal Democrats’ Bournemouth conference (held in two weeks) on pub closures, Gareth and Greg have co-authored an emergency motion.
Commenting on the findings, Cllr Gareth Epps says:-
“These findings show that there are many threats to Reading’s community pubs – but one of the biggest are the companies that own the pubs themselves. While increased taxation by the Labour Government, cut price supermarket booze and the smoking ban haven’t helped, it’s the pubcos that twist the knife.
The most shocking finding of all is the extent to which the pubcos are ripping off licensees. These multi-billion pound companies with huge purchasing power are allowed to get away with daylight robbery – and then snoop on the people making them money to ensure they’re being ripped off. It’s immoral and goes against the principles of free trade. The likes of Enterprise Inns doing the ripping off are a disgrace and need the law changed so they are forced to trade fairly.”
Gareth derides the Conservative claim that they can “save the pub” as simplistic, as the Tories have not offered any view on pubco reform:-
“Reform is needed not just to cut beer tax – that’s a simplistic solution. Supermarkets are selling booze for less now than 20 years ago – while the price of a pint has gone up three- or fourfold. The playing field must be levelled. The solutions to the crisis affecting our community pubs go much further than reversing Alastair Darling’s despised tax hikes.
This Government has a shocking record in promoting irresponsible binge drinking, while sending responsible community pubs to the wall. Its response to the pressure for reform of the tie can no longer be dither and delay. Labour must act now to stop the destruction of the community pub.”
Editor’s Notes :-
Cllr Gareth Epps is a member of CAMRA and a committee member of the Jollydarity campaign to reopen the Jolly Anglers in Newtown.
The survey was conducted in July and August 2009; on the visit of Greg Mulholland MP (pictured with Gareth) Gareth organised a closed session for publicans to meet Greg and discuss concerns under “Chatham House” rules. Gareth has also met a number of publicans at their request and discussed individual and more substantial concerns.
Gareth’s report can be viewed here