A shift in focus

By Hamish Champ

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensed retail sector Chief executive Recession Late-2000s recession License

Ask any operator for a 'shopping list' of what is necessary to run a good pub and having well-trained, qualified staff is bound to feature. But...

Ask any operator for a 'shopping list' of what is necessary to run a good pub and having well-trained, qualified staff is bound to feature.

But anyone who reads The Publican​'s legal pages will be all too aware that the demands on staff - and indeed management - to be fully up to speed with legislation covering things such as employee welfare, workplace discipline and health and safety have become a major aspect of the trade; some would even say burden.

Yet despite this, those providing training courses to the pub sector have, like their licensee clientele, had to respond to the economic downturn.

Established three decades ago to offer wannabe licensees a route towards getting their own pub, in recent years CPL Training has looked to diversify and offer qualifications that would help people in other sectors, such as the care and energy markets.

Different income streams

With the demand for National Certificate for Personal Licence Holders (NCPLH) qualifications on the decline - for fairly obvious reasons - CPL chief executive Daniel Davies says looking at different income streams was an obvious step.

"Not only has there been an unprecedented downturn in the economy generally, but the licensed retail sector has suffered from the smoking ban, the duty escalator and the growing trend towards home-drinking," he says.

"We decided on a strategy of diversification three years ago, so that we would be less dependent on the NCPLH.

"We've grown our portfolio of short courses and qualifications and moved into hospitality NVQs (non-vocational qualifications) as well as electronic learning (e-learning)."

The shift in emphasis has proved a successful strategy, he adds, "because although we've grown our market share of NCPLH the total market for it has now declined to around 60,000 entries a year."

CPL recently trialled an e-learning package with vodka bar group Revolution, which proved "very successful", according to Davies.

"E-learning has created training flexibility for the individual licensee running his pub or bar," he explains.

"Often only a couple of people may need training, say in food safety, and rather than having to wait for the local college to provide a scheduled course, the e-learning option offers immediate and cost-effective access."

Davies says the group has seen a "significant uptake" for all the other compliance courses it offers, both here and abroad.

When he became CPL's chief executive in 2007 he says he recognised the business had an "over-reliance" on a couple of qualifications and looked at what else could be offered.


"We've moved into other areas, we've grown our portfolio of short courses and deployed our resources to cater for other qualifications," he says.

Among CPL's low risk shifts was a migration to other sectors such as energy, and morphing shorter courses into longer NVQs. High risk moves included looking into expanding overseas.

"In 2007 we earmarked money, around £150,000, to fund some international development," says Davies. "It was a gamble but it paid off and now we're doing English-language exams in the Middle East, in places like Saudi Arabia and even Iran.

"It's only five per cent of our turnover but we're looking to grow this part of the business."

Closer to home and despite the downturn in the licensed trade side of things, Davies says CPL runs around 900 scheduled courses a year and annually trains more than 20,000 people, ranging from free-house operators and their staff to employees of pub companies and pub tenants.

He doesn't want to dwell on what had been a long-running spat with the industry's other large training provider, the BII. Instead he is keen to stress that relations with the institute are improving.

"We're talking to BII chief executive Neil Robertson, which is a good thing," he says. "It's not good for either of us to have arguments."

Meanwhile, Davies says claims that in the past CPL had attracted people to sign up for its courses with the promise of being placed in a pub, only for such promises to fall flat, as "absolutely, categorically untrue".

"But rumours that we simply placed people in pubs that were 'tenancies at will' are not true. You only have to look at the people who we train and work with to see that actions speak louder than words. Would the people who work with us do so if we were anything other than completely legit?" he adds.

Pubs at the core

So what of the future? Despite its diversification moves, pubs remain at the core of CPL, stresses Davies.

"We look forward to the licensed retail sector emerging from the recession," he says. "No matter what other sectors we expand into, licensed retailing will always be at the heart of our business."

And, like the pub sector which he serves, Davies echoes its ethos of keeping the customer at the forefront of everything the company does.

"It's important to be sensitive to our customers' needs," he points out. "We're here to provide what our customers want, not what we think they ought to want."

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