James Watson, the Pubs Preservation Officer for the Campaign for Real Ale’s East London and City branch, was speaking at a meeting of the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign at Westminster last week.
He said CAMRA had identified “two major killers of pubs”, which he insisted had not been tackled simply because of a lack of political will.
He said: “The first is the shamefully weak planning system which puts our pubs at an unfortunate handicap when compared to almost any other use of the land.
“Ministers have delivered ineffective gimmicks such as ACVS when what we really want is robust protection and safeguarding of pub use with planning policy in a watertight way that not even the most tenacious of developers can get round.”
He went on to name the second “killer” as the lack of regulation governing the relationship between pubcos and their tied tenants.
He added: “ When the vulture like administrators of Punch Taverns come to swoop on nearly 10% of Britain’s pubs and start their firesale without robust planning protection for pubs then the supermarkets, the property developers and Paddy Powers will outbid publicans. Publicans who, with the availability of affordable credit, the right financial package and most importantly free from the stranglehold of the tie, would be in the position to deliver sustainable community pubs that would be the envy of the world.”
Last Wednesday’s meeting at the Houses of Parliament also heard speeches from representatives of the GMB Union and the Fair Pint campaign on the need for pubco reform to be introduced this Parliament.
Chris Wright, from Pubs Advisory Service, told the meeting: “It’s always seemed illogical to think that a market where 80% of tenants earn under £15,000 can ever be thought of functioning properly and not in need of reform. Turnover of £500,000 in exchange for full tax credits cannot be justified by blaming economy or inefficient tenants. Tied tenants who can’t meet their obligations to HMRC or local authorities are advised frequently by pubcos to enter into IVAs and/or to trade on, wracking up more debts. This scandal reflects the real state of a mature pub market 25 years on from the Beer Orders.
“Codes of practice have been around since 2002 and a decade of select committees has found it unable to deliver fairness. We welcome the fairness that only statutory reform can bring this sector.”
Greg Mulholland MP, co-ordinator of Fair Deal for Your Local, said there was consensus across the political divide that pubco reform was needed.
He said: “It’s very clear from what Toby Perkins has said that the Labour party is largely committed to backing the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (BISC). The Lib Dems, as of their conference in York a few weeks, accepted a motion which commits the party officially to have as its party policy the BISC solution.
“The people we still have to convince are a small and decreasing group within Government but some of those are people who can dictate what this decision is. That’s why we are going to the top. We are going to say to Prime Minister and Chancellor that you must back the Fair Deal For Your Local as must BISC as must Vince Cable. We hope to hear from them in the next few weeks that they will do the right thing, the sensible thing and the only thing.”