Chris Bruton told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser the CAMRA Members Investment Club kept small interests in Enterprise Inns, Punch Taverns and most recently New RiverRetail, in order to monitor the companies’ actions.
Earlier this year CAMRA rebels berated the national executive for being “too close to the pubcos” and tabled a motion calling for a more “radical” stance in opposing them.
But Bruton, who was chairman of CAMRA between 1976 and 1978, said: “We always follow CAMRA policy. If CAMRA asked us to get rid of our shares in Punch and Enterprise, then we wouldn’t hesitate.
“We only have a small amount invested but that gives us the opportunity to go along to their AGMs. To give you an example of the scale — the fund is worth £17m in total and about £4,000 of that is in Enterprise.”
On NewRiver Retail, which has leased out 54 of the 202 sites it bought from Marston’s to the Co-op, Bruton said the investment had allowed CAMRA to attend two of the company’s meetings.
He said: “We wanted to be able to have some influence there. Actually, what we have seen so far isn’t pubs closing but unused space being built on and increasing footfall in the process.”
Recent investments have included West Berkshire Brewery and Black Eagle, but Bruton insisted these rare forays into microbreweries relied on due diligence and was cautious of new startups rushing to expand.
He said: “We are interested in successful microbreweries that are looking to expand but are concerned that there are too many now. If you’re talking about a husband and wife brewing for their pub that’s fine, but some companies are immediately setting up on a trading estate. I wonder how sustainable that is.”
The 4,000-member club’s unit price has risen from 79p in 1991 to its current level of £4.74. This is still down on the fund’s high point of £5.17 in the first quarter of 2007. However, it has had to battle back from a sharp drop between that point and December 2008 when it stood at just £2.58.
Bruton said the future for the fund involved “making sure we get maximum valuation and pubs stay open”.
For more information visit the investment club website.