Last Sunday's press reports suggested that the [Conservative] Chancellor “George Osborne is blocking plans by [Liberal Democrat] business secretary Vince Cable to save the ailing British pub”.
The story sent campaigners for pubco reform into a frustrated panic on Twitter, posting comments like: “Please do not do this @George_Osborne. You will kill me and my family”; and “@George_Osborne please do the right thing, protect pubs not questionable corporates”.
Greg Mulholland MP messaged the Chancellor with “#savethepubnotthepubcos and #nomoreUturns”.
The rumours are a conspiracy theorist’s dream. Just last Thursday, Osborne met various pub industry leaders at Marston’s Brewery and promised them that his beer-duty cut was “just the beginning of Government help for the sector”.
The PMA, while represented there, was not allowed into the round-table meeting — so we have only third-party intelligence of the conversations that went on behind closed doors. However, sources suggest that the Chancellor was fixated on jobs — as well he might be, given that he is currently presiding over a jobs market with a million unemployed 18 to 24-year-olds.
That would not be a good statistic to take into the 2015 General Election.
So one can imagine that any business sector that has the ability — with the right incentives — to quickly ‘magic’ tens of thousands of jobs for the country’s youth might be in a strong bargaining position (of course, this has long been Jacques Borel’s argument for achieving a VAT cut).
Does the Chancellor really want to ‘bash’ the pub companies with punitive legislation while, at the same time, asking for their help on employment and apprenticeships?
The coalition Government’s plans to regulate the pubco/tenant relationship via statute have had a distinctly Lib Dem flavour to them — driven hard by the yellow-hued axis of Cable, Jo Swinson
and Greg Mulholland. And we’ve never really got a sense of how Tory high command has viewed the situation. Certainly community pubs minister Brandon Lewis has been very quiet on the matter.
So what are the possibilities now? Scenario 1 sees Cable get his way and press on in a couple of weeks with consultation and regulation. Scenario 2 sees the whole project delayed by months and thus effectively kicked into the long grass. Scenario 3 sees Osborne veto the Government’s intervention entirely, maintaining the status quo.
Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. You’ll stand as much chance of predicting the eventual outcome of the long-running Pubco Stakes than anyone did of picking the shock winner of this year’s Grand National.