According to campaigners, some of these pubs — which Punch deems as "non-core" — are award-winning, highly successful businesses, and the only reason they’re being sold off to another property business is because they’ve had the temerity to indicate they’re interested in going for MRO.
Now, to be fair to Punch (yes, I can hear the howls from here!) there’s a certain case to say, well, it’s their estate and they can do what they want with it. Indeed, if a pub has said it is going to seek to move to a platform where it offers less business opportunity for Punch, then it’s no great surprise that the company would seek to divest itself of those businesses.
At the end of the day, business is business and the directors of Punch have a responsibility to their own operation and shareholders to deliver the best value.
However, it would be more than a little refreshing if Punch were honest about it and admitted that was exactly what was driving their motives. This is, yet again, one of the unintended consequences of the recent legislative changes.
What I do find difficult, apart from the lack of transparency in the situation, is the somewhat cynical move to sell the estate to an operator that has a track record of converting pubs to convenience stores and the like. Hopefully that will not prove to be the case and NewRiver Retail will go on to form strong and mutually beneficial relationships with those 158 pubs.
For some of these viable, in some cases award-winning, businesses to be at risk of disappearing into a property developer’s portfolio is a concern. Fortunately, this is where careful and considered use of the Asset of Community Value orders can be applied in an intelligent and practical way, giving those pubs that are now denied the MRO path a chance to remain open as pubs.
As if this wasn’t enough stress to be placing on the average licensee, it would seem, from our annual leisure survey, that time off for those running pubs is a rare and expensive commodity.
With some licensees working between 60 and 100 hours a week that is a worry. And with 65% of respondents saying they didn’t get enough exercise, it paints a challenging picture for the trade.
We are keen to attract new recruits into the business, but to do that, we need to ensure the business offers a good and healthy environment to work in. There’s no simple or easy answer to this problem, but it’s certainly something we should be putting our heads together and thinking about.