City Diary — 18 March

By The PMA Team

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Pub association, Lib dem, City diary, Beer

E-cigarette: banned in Sam Smith pubs
E-cigarette: banned in Sam Smith pubs
The latest rumour and gossip from the City.

The true cost of mediation

The very long report emerging from the Business Innovation & Skills Committee on the pubco/tenant relationship provides an indication of how much the mediation process, overseen by Michel Kallipetis QC, held last summer between the pubcos and interested parties cost. The report shows that the British Beer & Pub Association coughed up £142,000. City Diary understands the total cost was around £200,000 with the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers paying £20,000 and other groups lesser amounts according to their size.

Luff stands firm on BISC report

MP Peter Luff stressed that he stands by every word of the Business Innovation & Skills Committee report, although he conceded that the committee probably should have included a recognition that "there is such a thing as a bad lessee". "But even good lessees find it difficult to flourish in circumstances they are confronting," he said. The BISC chairman said he's "spurred into fury" by the assumption that data from flow monitoring equipment alone is enough evidence of buying out. He also singled out the taking of fines by direct debit. "They say it has stopped. Let's see. I hope so."

Lib Dem licensee targets Tories

And while we're talking politics, City Diary notes that an Admiral Taverns tenant Rob Hylands is Liberal Democrat candidate for Gosport at the next general election. Hylands, who runs the Forresters Arms hopes to overturn a substantial Conservative majority. Hylands said a Lib Dem Government would stand up for community pubs. "The vast majority of community pubs do not cause binge drinking," he said. He also believes that pubcos should simply become property companies and sever the beer tie. "The pubcos would have fewer overheads and we'd have more choice. That's got to be good business sense."

BBPA email gets political response

There's absolutely no doubt that the world of tenanted pubs has become very politicised. The British Beer & Pub Association sent out an email to prospective Parliamentary candidates across the country asking for their support for its Back the Pub campaign. A Lib Dem PPC Hugh Annand, who is standing in the North-east Hertfordshire constituency, sent City Diary a copy of his response: "Of course I am happy to back the pub — notably against the activities of some of her members." He mentioned Punch and Enterprise in less than complimentary terms.

Holmes believes in human touch

Castle Rock chief executive Chris Holmes, who runs an estate of 20 pubs, argues hard that customers can be quirky — and can forgive a fair bit if there's real warmth on offer in a pub. He told the SIBA conference: "There are pubs that I love that are cramped, small, their toilets might be a bit dirty, but they're busy, and I think that's down to the licensee. You've got to remember that it's individuals dealing with individuals. Customers prefer a smile and politeness to absolute ruthless efficiency with no warmth." He added that some major organisations forced growth and excluded any possibility that an individual running a venue could express themselves.

Strange world of contract brewing

The world of brewing is peculiar. Marston's will be soon brewing Bass for Coors and Tetley cask for Carlsberg. Meanwhile, Coors will be brewing Tetley's Smoothflow for Carlsberg and Foster's for Heineken. Meanwhile Camerons is brewing Cobra for Coors. It's like keeping track of what's going on at some wife-swapping party.

Heineken's bond-buying solution

Heineken got a bit fed up of not being paid for its beer supplies by Globe Pub Company, the 420-strong pubco set up by Robert Tchenguiz's R20. Covenant breaches meant beer payments were subordinate to payments to bondholders for a while last year. The Dutch brewer got around the problem by buying in bonds. Globe now has a new name — Blue Star Pub Company.

SIBA chief tough on pub bores

What simmers below the surface of SIBA chief executive Julian Grocock's calm exterior? Well, apparently he has a very low boredom threshold. At one of Grocock's first sites in Loughborough, he had a regular customer he nicknamed "the pub bore". Apparently the pub bore was so good at his job — boring people — that when customers saw him approach the pub, they would scurry from the lounge into the public bar. Chris Holmes, who has worked with Grocock for many years, dished the dirt. Grocock told the customer he was banned for being too boring. Holmes said: "That takes quite a lot of balls, especially since it's also fairly likely the man will go straight out and top himself."

Sam Smith's e-cigarette ban

A new memo is doing the rounds within the pub estate of low-key Tadcaster brewer Samuel Smith — e-cigarettes have been banned from all pubs. For once posters have a degree of sympathy on the snarky alternative Sam Smith's website, www.samsmiths.info​. Says one: "The artificial cigarettes are very realistic, and it could be difficult for managers and other customers to tell the difference from a distance. The last thing a manager needs is for someone to light up on the basis that another customer is smoking a plastic cigarette."

Fever Bars calls the retro tunes

A unique selling point for the Chicago Rock Cafe chain in its heyday was the realisation that even youngsters prefer the music of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to virtually anything since. A growing company called Fever Bars has picked up on this and is doing very nicely. It has opened retro-themed sites in Cheltenham, Gloucester, Redditch, Trowbridge, Sutton Coldfield and Walsall. Last week, it bought the former Secrets nightclub in Newbury and will reopen it for Easter.

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