Former pubs minister Bob Neill hits back at 'Mugabe' taunt

By Bob Neill

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Ex-pubs minister Bob Neill
Ex-pubs minister Bob Neill
Former pubs minister Bob Neill has responded to accusations made against his support of a statutory code from McMullen MD Peter Furness-Smith last week.

Furness-Smith wrote an open letter to Neill saying: “Robert Mugabe would be proud of you”, and added it was depressing that a former pubs minister would back intervention in the sector.

In his submission to the consultation Neill said he wanted business secretary Vince Cable to give tenants the right to have a free-of-tie option combined with an open-market rent review.

The Bob Neill letter:

Dear Peter,

I should also like to wish you a happy new year!  

It is refreshing to see that politicians aren’t the only ones who resort to name calling when they find themselves on the wrong side of the argument. Although the tone of your letter did make me chuckle, let’s not lose sight of the important changes that are being discussed.

Had you read my consultation submission in its entirety, instead of taking headlines at face value, you would have noticed that I support a more nuanced form of intervention, targeted specifically at the major pub companies. Even in its current form, the Government’s proposed code is very clearly restricted to the larger pubcos.

So I am struggling to understand why you are getting so worked up about these potential changes and coming to the defence of these larger companies. Your brewery arm would actually stand to benefit from the reforms I set out, so you do yourself no favours siding with the likes of Punch and Greene King. May I respectfully suggest, therefore, that you take a moment to read through the actual detail of what is being proposed and how it would impact your business model.    

Of course it would be good if we could do more on beer duty. Like you, I was delighted when the Chancellor announced the first duty cut for more than 50 years, which complements targeted action through business rates to support pubs. But the businessman in you will know full well that our number-one priority must be to tackle our country’s deficit, and this limits how far we can go in the course of this Parliament.

The pubcos have shown themselves incapable of self-regulation. Some behave more like property companies than providers of consumer services. Very many MPs, myself included, have seen examples in their constituencies of viable pubs sold off for development simply to improve the pubcos’ balance sheet.

Many of us have learned first-hand the frustration of tenants who are restricted from sourcing beer in a genuine open market – and that’s the sort of market I believe in, Peter – by the way the tie currently operates and their very weak bargaining position as against their pubco landlords. Modest Government intervention is justified to make the market work properly and I am always happy to discuss the way we do it. The Publican’s Morning Advertiser is a very worthy publication, but maybe we can talk about this over a pint, rather than through their print?

Best wishes,

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