What did the Beer Orders achieve?

Related tags Beer orders Beer Brewers

I wonder if, with the benefit of hindsight, Lord Young would still be "minded" to accept the recommendations of the Monopolies and Mergers...

I wonder if, with the benefit of hindsight, Lord Young would still be "minded" to accept the recommendations of the Monopolies and Mergers Commissions' report and introduce the Beer Orders?

Back then in 1989, the public needed to be protected from the big six avaricious brewers, who between them owned around 55% of pubs and brewed 75% of the beer consumed in the UK.

They not only produced the beer but owned the means of its distribution and sale - clearly an outdated Leninist concept that threatened competition and was swept away in the "loadsamoney" eighties.

What followed can only be described as

turmoil as the larger brewers decided

whether they wished to remain brewers or become pure retailers.

Some operators spotted the opportunity and formed pubcos, buying up pubs from the big brewers in the forced sale the Beer Orders precipitated. They then forged deals for beer supply with the brewers.

Consolidation of brewers and pubcos has been a continual feature of the business ever since, with regional brewers falling like ninepins and long cherished local beers either killed-off or brewed in distant mash tuns for dispossessed drinkers.

Tenants and managers have found themselves with different landlords and employers, often several times in a couple of years.

Accepting a job with a brewer and six months down the line finding yourself

working for a bank is one of the more bizarre aspects of this industry.

Brands on the bar came and went with every change of ownership. So was it worth the pain?

I guess that depends on what role you played in this cabaret.

The industry has made some far-sighted and innovative operators very wealthy, banks and venture capitalists seem to have done all right for themselves and the city advisors have had a drink or two on their merger and takeover fees.

But remember, this legislation was

introduced to protect the consumer from

a potentially monopolistic situation that threatened competition in the industry. So how has the consumer fared?

Still a monopoly?

Instead of the big six brewers providing 75% of beer volumes, we now have the big four producing 76%. Whereas in 1989 the big six owned 55% of the pubs in the UK, the biggest six pub operators now own around 44%.

Probably not the resounding success Lord Young had in mind. Never mind - like most politicians they've long since left their job by the time the scale of their ineptitude becomes evident.

However, I do feel the customer has benefited from the huge improvement in standards and service that these changes have driven.

The night-time economy in Britain's town centres has been revitalised - sometimes

perhaps a little too much - as a result of the brave investments made by branded pub operators.

Food has improved beyond all recognition and training and qualifications, through

bodies like the BII, have enhanced

professionalism in the industry.

How much of this would have happened without the impetus of the Beer Orders is open to debate, but what is beyond question is that the brewers have been joined at the top table by the property dealers.

In the distant days when there were

hundreds of local brewers, pubs were bought as a means of guaranteeing a route to market for their beers.

They were outlets rather than retail

businesses. With property prices moving the way they have, it was inevitable that the industry would attract people who are more interested in unlocking the value of the property and enjoying the cash flows that a tenanted/leased estate generates, rather than developing the pub and winning

customers to secure volume and the future of the brewing business.

And that's where we are now. The business splits into two kinds of operator - those who want to be in the business for the long-term, delivering quality, service and standards, developing their brands and their people, and those who want to make a quick buck from the property portfolio and keep the cash flow going in the meantime. Those who want to make profit from trading hospitality and those who want to profit from dealing pubs. We've recently seen the shambles of London & Edinburgh and Provence and make no

mistake, there are others out there.

Most pub operators will agree that the biggest challenge facing them is attracting talented people to run their businesses.

The massed ranks of the media already give us an unjustly tough ride with underage and binge drinking and this must deter some people from considering a career in pub retailing.

If the business pages feature landlords

disappearing overnight while their tenants and lessees are left in no man's land, it

does the industry's image no good at all. It needs that sort of publicity like a hole in

the head.

What used to be a tough business run by the gentry will increasingly be seen as a rough business run by the dodgy. It used to be said that "All brewers pee in the same

pot" and in the days of brewing dynasties there was probably some truth in that

inelegant phrase.

There's no truth there now though. Pub

operating companies and brewers are as different and varied as the pubs they own. Those that are responsible and train and

develop their people and invest in the

business for the benefit of their tenants

and customers need to put some clear blue water between themselves and the fly-by-nights.

The risk of not doing so, just like the binge-drinking issue, is that the whole industry gets brought down by the actions of a few

miscreants and a sensationalist press.

Related topics Beer

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