Did I have a gun to his head when he signed?"
The line you just read is a direct quote from a pubco executive when I challenged him about one of his tenants who was finding his lease so restrictive he could barely pay himself a living wage.
Not a reasonable living wage I might add, just enough to eat and buy the odd pair of jeans. Cars, holidays and meals out? Not a chance — he was just about the only person still employed at his pub and there were jobs to be done.
Since signing his lease, things had changed at this poor chap's pub. To be fair it wasn't his pubco that changed them. We can't blame them for the duty increases or the way we were treated during the VAT reduction, and pubcos didn't introduce the smoking ban or the bonus structure down at your local bank. They will also happily show us their debt mountain and point out their gardens aren't all rosy either.
Do I care that the big players in our industry have debts running to billions? Not even slightly. Do I care that lessees are being milked for all they are worth to pay for it? Well, yes, actually I do!
I, like most of you, read headlines in publications like this one about which union is going to do what, which MP — with election on the horizon — has decided to sort the job out on our behalf, and which forward-thinking licensees have actually put together a decent campaign. Sadly, as the muppet I quoted at the start of this article proved, the law is not with us.
The best way to wake up the pubcos? Stop signing leases. If the unions advertised real stories of lessees' lives instead of throwing money at lawyers to fight each other, and your MP tabled a bill recognising the need to stop all new leases being as Draconian as yours, some good could be done.
The chance of your landlord binning your lease and starting again is remote at best, but if you knew when you signed it what you know now would you have done it? I didn't think so.
Let us put our effort into grinding the recruitment of new tenants to a halt, watch the numbers of pubs on the various websites rocket and then see what happens.
How long can they hope to continue trading if every time one of the poor souls they have bled dry leaves his or her pub there is no interested party to take over? No more key money, no more over-inflated fixtures and fittings charges, no more ridiculous charges for "training" you, no more fines for paying late, no more up-only rent reviews, no more lambs to the slaughter.
Next time someone asks you to lobby Parliament with them or take a ballot on strike action, ask your local reporter to publish your story in the paper, ask your MP to table a motion calling for a halt to any new tied leases until the competition commission, assuming it looks at the issue, has finalised its report or maybe, just maybe, ask Peter Luff to produce something meaningful from his hat… Just a thought.