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ACV roundtable: Government announces probe into issue

By Emily Sutherland

- Last updated on GMT

ACV roundtable: Government announces probe into issue

Related tags: Pubs, Pub, Alcoholic beverage, Local government

The Department for Communities & Local Government will launch a consultation into assets of community value legislation before the end of the year, the Publican's Morning Advertiser understands at its exclusive ACV roundtable.

The Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG) will launch a consultation into assets of community value legislation before the end of the year, the Publican’s Morning Advertiser​ (PMA) understands.

A spokesperson from the department told the PMA it was informally seeking the views of organisations interested in ACVs ahead of a consultation, planned for the end of December.
Leading voices from across the trade have come together to demand clearer guidance from the Government on asset of community value (ACV) listings for pubs.

At an exclusive roundtable debate hosted by the PMA and Save the Pub Group last week, experts from both sides of the debate agreed that “wishy washy” guidance from the DCLG had been damaging for both pub owners and communities who wanted to list their locals.

The debate — held at ACV-listed and community-run pub the Antwerp Arms in Tottenham, north London — covered whether listings had been good for the sector and how the relatively new legislation could be improved.

Jim Cathcart, policy manager at the British Beer & Pub Association, argued: “We need a robust piece of guidance that lets community groups and property owners know exactly how the process works because, at the moment, the guidance doesn’t separate out pubs.”

Gordon Stewart from the Plunkett Foundation, which supports co-operatives and social enterprises, added: “We’ve found the same issue; there’s been a light touch from the DCLG. It doesn’t help communities that local authorities are unclear and that the listing process is very subjective.”

The listing of pubs has become a hot topic since the Government strengthened legislation earlier this year meaning planning permission is now required to change the use of, or demolish, a listed pub. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) subsequently launched a drive to list more than 3,000 pubs as ACVs, arguing that it protects licensees from closures and generates positive publicity. But others are less enthusiastic, claiming listings reduce pubs values and makes it difficult for owners to sell.

Pub heritage and planning consultant Dale Ingram said she had seen listings refused because communities were unaware of the evidence they needed to provide.

Save the Pub Group chair Greg Mulholland called for a separate listing system for pubs to clear up the confusion over existing legislation.

The MP has suggested a new ‘pub of community value’ status, where an existing pub must be marketed as a pub for six months, giving both community groups and smaller pubcos the chance to buy and run the venue. This way, pubs could only be demolished or converted after six months if no offer has been received.

He said: “I know of cases where a small pubco or brewery has tried to buy pubs from the larger pubcos but are refused because redevelopment brings more money.

“In many cases, it is small pub companies, entrepreneurs and small breweries who can and will buy and save pubs, rather than communities, some of which may struggle to raise the finance.”

Roundtable discussion

ACVroundtable

Asset of community value (ACV) listings of pubs have divided the trade. To explore the issue in greater detail, the Publican’s Morning Advertiser and the parliamentary Save the Pub Group brought together leading voices from both sides of the debate at ACV listed and community-run London pub the Antwerp Arms. Emily Sutherland reports.

Mary-Jane Roberts Fishwick: ​I wanted to come to this event because we’re an independent [pub], and I think, because of the scale of some of the issues, we don’t often get heard. There’s very little for an independent licensee to use against a landlord who is dead-set on changing your building in to something else, and this [ACV listing] is one of the only things we had.

Dale Ingram:​ Mary-Jane has raised an important issue — an ACV listing is a shot across the bows to would-be developers, saying ‘this is not a pub that is going to go quietly’. The advantages I see are not necessarily the most obvious.

The reality is only 12 or 13 pubs have been bought by communities under the ACV regime but the other elements of control it gives are very welcome. The planning system says valued things are to be protected, and an ACV listing can be formal evidence of how valued a pub is. However, there are some local authorities taking it to an extreme. Some community groups have said they value their pub but the authorities have argued, because it isn’t ACV-listed, it doesn’t meet the valued criteria.

Do ACVs act as a deterrent to developers when only 13 pubs have been bought by the community?

DI:​ We have to remember the ACV regime is quite young. We’re only really looking at legislation that is two-and-a-half years old. It’s still early days, but we need to keep a beady eye on where it is not being as effective as we might like.

Simon Chaplin​: I’ve seen cases where ACVs are used to disrupt sales and then the sale has continued six months down the line with the same outcome. The problem is the misuse of ACVs on some occasions.

Greg Mulholland​: But whose fault is that? That’s the fault of the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG.) It’s outrageous to attack volunteers who nominated pubs as ACVs by accusing them of misuse. ACVs come from the local community and, like it or not, some have used it successfully and some haven’t.

Roundtableattendees

What grants a pub more protection than a butcher’s or greengrocer’s?

GM: ​I know lots of cases around the country where a small pub company or a new brewery has tried to buy pubs from the large pub companies and are being refused because they can get more cash by having them redeveloped. There’s greater value in selling them to a supermarket, even though smaller pubcos are offering market value and could run them as pubs. So the current system is actually anti-business; it’s closing viable business and stopping the little guys.

SC​: I’ve had cases where a pub is being sold and they’ve found a buyer who wants to keep it as a pub but the local community have had it ACV-listed. The potential new owner went to the community and told them about their desire to keep it as pub but the community still delayed the sale by six months and now the buyer is walking away. Will the community get that money together? Nobody knows.

How could the legislation be improved?

Jim Cathcart​: The legislation is in a state of flux and we should ask DCLG for a robust piece of guidance that lets community groups and property owners know exactly how the process works because, at the moment, the guidance doesn’t even separate out pubs.

Gordon Stewart​: We’ve found the same issue — it’s a very light touch from the DCLG. It doesn’t help communities that local authorities are unclear and the system is very subjective.

MJRF:​ The previous question about how pubs are different to any other business indicates that guidance from the DCLG is lacking. The difficulty is we’re trying to list intangibles, like the access to social networks pubs provide but the wishy-washy approach hasn’t helped.

GM​: We can all agree we need much better guidance. Clarity is important. But we also need more honesty from ministers. It isn’t just a question of getting 21 people together. It took Otley Pub Club months of work to list 19 pubs and you need very passionate, pro-pub people. One problem with the ACV system is that it’s very biased towards middle-class, well-connected communities. It’s much more difficult in areas of deprivation, where people are just as reliant, if not more so, on their local pubs. It’s dishonest that ministers are telling people it’s really easy and simple to list pubs. It takes a lot of work.

DI​: I agree. If you look at a map of ACV listings there are lots in London and the south-east and along the Thames Valley but then they peter away. North of Birmingham is an ACV desert.

Are we obsessed with ACVs and ignoring the wider picture?

MJRF:​ The pubs sector is the highest taxed in the economy — it’s extraordinary. The better you operate, the higher quality ingredients you buy and the higher the quality of the employment you offer, the more you get taxed. I’d make more money if I flogged pre-cooked burgers and low-quality beer — that’s the reality.

Jonathan Mail​: But ACVs is the sector’s way of uniting and saying ‘these are some of the best pubs in the country, they’re absolutely vital and actually the Government needs to come and give better support to these pubs through a fairer tax regime’.

SC​: But you can’t say that all ACV pubs will be the best in the country.

JM:​ That’s what we’re aspiring for an ACV listing to mean. The aspiration is that it becomes a fantastic badge of honour for licensees running fantastic businesses.

Editorial: It's time to end ACV status misuse

EdBedington

It was great to be able to host, along with the parliamentary Save the Pub Group, a roundtable to get to grips with the issues surrounding assets of community value (ACV).

One thing that came through loud and clear was there’s a lot of confusion around the issue and the lack of clarity and guidance is undermining the value of something that, actually, should be a powerful piece of protection for the sector.

I disagree with the Campaign For Real Ale (CAMRA) campaign, well-meaning though it is, to encourage all pubs to list themselves as ACVs. The discussion showed clear examples where applications had actually backfired and, in one case, a listing had led to a deal to sell a pub as a going concern falling through.

The over-riding view, from both supporters and detractors of the scheme, is that it’s an imperfect piece of legislation — but those imperfections are leading to misuse and that’s undermining the correct application.

Hopefully, the comments made during our roundtable (see pages 10-11) will be taken on board by the Department for Communities & Local Government and those imperfections can be ironed out.

In the meantime, I would call for sensible application of ACVs — the order should only be used when a viable, well-run business is under threat — not held up as some kind of badge of honour or blanket approach.

One stat certainly jumped out at me during the debate — according to planning consultant Dale Ingram, only around 13 pubs had been bought by the community after undergoing an ACV — that’s 13 out of 900 or so that have been listed so far. Ultimately, there’s no point applying an ACV to a pub if there’s no appetite within the community to save it.

Meanwhile, it was nice to see a bit of sense being spoken by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), following last week’s attack on licensing hours by the Institute of Alcoholic Studies (IAS).

The IAS pointed to concerns about 24-hour licensing putting a “huge strain” on emergency services. However the IEA said that alcohol-related crime had actually fallen since the licensing laws changed.

They point to the fact that flexible closing times has had a beneficial effect, with fewer people being turned out on to the streets at the same time.

Unfortunately, it seems common sense is in short supply as the All-Party Parliamentary Group has now launched an inquiry into the impact of alcohol on emergency services, largely, it would seem, based on IAS claims.

Bearing in mind it’s widely recognised that pubs are the safest environments for alcohol consumption, hopefully the inquiry will focus on the less regulated, off-trade sector and how that impacts down the line. Pigs might also fly.

In other news, I was delighted to read that the concept of the beer belly was a myth. Not sure what I can blame mine on, but it’s good to know that it’s not the beer — just all the sausages, pies and crisps then!

More seriously though, it’s nice to see some positive news about beer getting some traction — we tend to focus so much on the negatives, it’s nice to get a reminder that something we enjoy isn’t all bad after all — hang on — I think a drove of pigs just flew past the window!

Related topics: Legislation

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