Like many great ideas, the premise for the Society of Licensees came up in a discussion over a few pints of beer and a game of poker.
As a mix of freeholders, leaseholders, tied tenants and small brewers sat around the table, talk naturally turned to our industry and the various difficulties each of us face daily in order to keep our businesses running. As a tied tenant, it was refreshing for me to hear that my free- and lease-holding peers around the table had their own issues and financial worries - and similar frustrations.
One topic kept niggling throughout the conversation: which trade body was the right one for a licensee to join? After all, there are indeed so many.
This sparked a lively debate, until Ed Davies, Licensee of Kilverts in Hay-on-Wye, mused that there was no "one-stop-shop" for licensees to get their voice heard.
"Wouldn't it be better," Ed carried on, "if there was one group that simply took the views of those at the coalface of the pub trade and reported on them for the use of everybody else?"
The discussion went on well in to the early hours, and was then regurgitated over poached eggs the following morning. Ed's vision was quite simple: there should be a group that could collate licensees' thoughts and ideas and then present them to the relevant trade bodies or authorities to use as they wished. The advantage of this is that the views would be from a much larger audience, rather than targeted membership of specific groups.
Additionally, a main aim should be to actively offset the negative images of the pub trade often found in the national press, such as the "apocalyptic" rise in binge drinking predicted by Lord Advocate Elish Angiolini this week.
Understandably, when the Society of Licensees was launched last week it met with a mixed reaction - thankfully, most was positive, but naturally there were some detractors, and some concerned that the wheel was being reinvented once again. Some even leveled criticism towards Ed that he was trying to take on the might of some big names in the industry.
I've spoken with Ed on most days since he decided to spearhead this project and his attitude has never been to try and topple the mantle of Neil Robertson or Brigid Simmonds, and neither has he any intention for the Society of Licensees to go in to battle with the various established trade bodies.
Rather, he wants the group to be impartial from the various political agendas that differing trade groups have, and for it not to be aligned with any particular pub company or brewery. More importantly, it is also to be a free society, open to all licensees whichever type of establishment they run.
Most other bodies charge for membership, but this in turn brings with it its own difficulties, not least for those who are struggling to find the money each day to cover their own costs, let alone find that needed to pay fees for their chosen trade body. SoL aims not to take a fee for membership, but does have an entry policy that requires proof that members are indeed licensees of an active pub.
There may be scope in the future for the membership criteria to be widened or relaxed, but from little acorns great oak trees grow and Ed's idea might just be what is needed to truly collate the voice of those who stand the bars up and down the country. He certainly shouldn't be vilified or ridiculed for having a bash at doing something good for a trade he loves dearly, but there will undoubtedly be some teething troubles and growing pains, especially as Ed's done most of this off his own back, and at his own cost, with a helping hand from a few of us to get the Society of Licensees up and running.
There is a valid argument that the sector for trade groups is already over-subscribed, but between all these trade representative groups and others including the Federation of Small Businesses all arguing the value of becoming a member, it can be confusing - and financially restrictive - to choose who best to join.
I'm a proud member of the BII, and a member of my Regional Council, and the hard work and effort that goes in to such an organisation can not be argued with. The Society of Licensees isn't aiming to take members away from such organisations, but simply augment what they do and offer those who can't choose, can't afford to choose, or simply don't wish to choose a particular allegiance, the chance to get their voice heard.
As membership to Ed's group is free, licensees have little to lose other than a few moments time, and everything to gain if it becomes successful.