‘Badge of Honour’ for pubs in effort to curb closures says the blurb for CAMRA’s latest press release for the launch of this new scheme at GGBF. Soundbites such as ’twenty nine pubs closing per week’ and ‘The great British pub is a national treasure’ sound really cool and it’s all wonderful news that CAMRA aims to get 3,000 pubs listed as Assets of Community value by the end of 2016. But is it? I’ve been pondering this for some time and I might be having some doubts.
Firstly I have to nail my colours to the tree on the village green; I love pubs. More to the point I love a good pub, well run, with good people behind and in front of the counter. I wholeheartedly agree with the statement that our pubs are a national treasure that are truly worth saving. I’m also pragmatic and I have to ask why some pubs are closing? Simple, market forces. Have you ever seen a well run, busy pub close down?
Lots of things are blamed for the loss of our pubs; pubcos, supermarkets, fair rent, beer tax. Things like big mortgages, modern life and family commitments are often overlooked. Gone are the days when a bloke (and it usually was) walked to and from work and called in for a couple on the way home before tea. Both him and his partner are now stuck in traffic and one of them is racing back to collect the kids before after school club closes. Once upon a time people would meet friends in the local or down the club on a Friday or Saturday. They never imagined having a dinner party or a BBQ where the entire family can be entertained without recourse to the expense of a baby sitter. Times have changed and so pubs have to, and not always for the better.
Quite simply the ACV powers are a political sledgehammer. Designed by legislators, under political pressure from various campaigning groups who have an axe to grind against the major Pubcos. I’m not a fan either, but the ACV powers are indiscriminate and will hit the small free hold operator much harder. I support the Fair Deal for your Local campaign in every aspect. Unfortunately the aims may be a bit Utopic because whatever we think the pub, the assets, the money belongs to someone else.
Recently the entire nineteen pubs in the market town of Otley, West Yorkshire achieved ACV status. What about the licensees, what do they think? Well two operators have appealed the decision. Both of whom are quality operators and are in no way Pubcos.
The Old Cock, Otley is a resounding success and has achieved many CAMRA accolades. Bearing in mind the premises were ramshackle old cottages until four or five years ago, surely the pub can’t now be an ACV? The landlord Lee Pullan had a succesfull professional career, retired and fulfilled an ambition of having a pub. What happens if he wants to retire fully, because I’ll wager he has a lot of his retirement funds tied up in that pub, how does he get that money out if no one wants to take it on as a going concern? The other big question is how can Lee be successful when others have failed in the town? The answer here is quality with a big Q. Please don’t say pricing neither because the Old Cock is, for the locality, at the very top of the pricing structure.
What about the free hold couple that split up? The Landlady to whom ill health unexpectedly strikes? The licensee struggling on with undiagnosed clinical depresion? How do those people get out? How do they sell an ailing business? Do they just have to put their lives on hold for six months of misery while a group of local do gooders try to flog a dead horse? Mounting debts? The banks won’t wait six months, they’ll just cut off your line of credit and you go bust. It doesn’t sound too good now does it? It’s peoples lives we’re playing with, not every pub belongs to a big pubco.
Another issue that strikes me is if pubs are so precious then why are more and more opening in places like Leeds city centre? This tells me that there is a clear need for these premises, it’s just that the type of need is changing. A city with over three quarters of a million people will sustain these new ventures, but is it reasonable to expect little Otley (pop. 14,000) on the rural fringes to keep nineteen pubs going?
I can perhaps see the need for an ACV in a remote upland village where the single pub and centre of the community is threatened. But hold on, is it the centre of the community? If it was it wouldn’t be struggling would it?
Although I can see this from both sides, what I really dislike is the fact that one small group can tell someone else what they can or can’t do, with something they have invested time and money into. It’s a bit like someone coming along and putting restrictions on what you can or can’t do with your home (presuming you own it). For that reason, I don’t like the taste of politics in my beer, whatever political flavour that may be and would ask that those self righteous enough to dictate what hard working small business people can or can’t do as part of their crusade against pubcos should think again.
Whatever you think, if you are going to nominate your local for an ACV then please, please, please go and talk to the licensee first.