- "Mulholland is a formidable campaigner and MP. But he overstepped the mark": Deputy editor Mike Berry's original 'Pubco Panto' op-ed piece
So it seems I have bagged the role of the villain in the annual Pubco Panto, the Tenanted Pub Company Summit. The clue is in the name. It is an event for pub companies to talk to each other and at £600 a ticket, it excludes the vast majority of those who work in the tenanted pub sector, pub tenants!
It is 5 years since I last appeared at the Pubco Panto and what was extraordinary is that for all that has happened since then the pubco trade association the BBPA and their members could have made the precisely the same speeches. It really was Groundhog Day and it was clear that this event was once again all about backslapping, self-congratulation and of course how little this wonderful ‘industry’ needed any Government interference.
Mike Berry, (‘industry’ journalist now suddenly a ‘commentator’ in an ‘opinion’ piece) felt I “overstepped the mark”. Mike is of course perfectly entitled to think I was off message at this latest Pubco Panto, which of course I was considering the script. For apparently I (and tenants and tenants’ groups) now all have to “put the past behind us” and “work together” regardless of the fact that nothing has changed in terms of the pubcos taking too much from pub profit, the fundamental and utterly corrosive problem that dogs the tenanted pub sector.
Now Mike was kind enough to say that I am a “formidable campaigner and MP”. In return, I can certainly say that Mike is a nice bloke and good to have a pint with.; but the problem is Mike and his ilk don’t want to go beyond that. If my fault is that I somehow “overstepped the mark” by taking on people who have done huge damage to pubs (and they have), the problem with Mr Mike Berry is that he hasn’t ever overstepped a mark in his professional life. Because he went into the world of pub journalism thinking that it would all be about people having a pint and a laugh and slapping each other on the back for supporting British pubs.
But sadly, whilst some of the sector happily is like that – microbrewing, craft beer, the small up and coming entrepreneurial pub companies all operating on a different and fair models, the tenanted pub sector isn’t and to try to pretend otherwise is indeed delusional.
So Mike and others are perfectly entitled to think me rude (I can’t help but feel he needs to get to the north of England a bit more) but I take it on the chin; but he and they cannot expect me or others to fall into line and accept this dishonest myth being peddled that the big pubcos have “changed” and that therefore we should all stop campaigning, because the fundamental problem hasn’t changed one iota.
Mike’s piece wasn’t a very honest description of the panel discussion either. My first answer made clear that I wanted to see a successful tenanted pub model, indeed that I wanted to see it SAVED, free from the abuse of the unregulated pubco tied model. BPPA answers, far from being about working together, were attacking all those who wouldn’t accept this latest myth.
It was also just crass to say I somehow ran off after the discussion and it is second rate journalism not to check with me. So engulfed in the bubble of the Pubco Panto, Mike may have forgotten that actually I was attending it by ducking out briefly from my job, as a Member of Parliament. After the summit, I had to get back for votes, with one around 4:40pm.
You also would have no idea from Mike’s piece that the poor delegate I was “rude” to, far from being some hardworking pub person with “20 years of experience” was none other than Peter Marsden (sic Hansen), corporate financier behind Punch and their disastrous acquisition spree, so pardon me if I was a little tetchy!
As for being somehow being “evasive”, I had already stated that it was inevitable that with or without MRO the currently unsustainable pubcos would change and evolve (and the pubcos tell us they have every right to do whatever they like with their pubs). I will hardly be able to sleep at night thinking that Enterprise might turn their turn some pubs into managed ones, like those terrible companies like Mitchell's & Butler (sic Butler's) who disgracefully keep delivering great profit figures & growth, with their managers all on a good salary!
Sorry Mike, it is you who has evaded journalistic duty by failing to scrutinise the claims that the pubcos "have changed" to see if there has been any rebalancing of profitability and worse still seem to have just accepted this narrative. Why have you never followed up the fact that I have asked the same question of Andy Slee five times, in writing and in person and have never had an answer? Isn’t that a bit “rude”? It is certainly deliberately and chronically evasive.
Above all, it is shocking, if alas predictable, that pubco/BBPA panellists failed to even once mention tenant profitability. You can have all the codes and "changes" in the world, but none of is worth a jot if it doesn’t deal with the festering sore at the heart of the sector, which is the inability of tenants to take a fair share of pub profit. Yet not a peep out of Mike Berry about that. What message does that send to licensees?
I won’t be invited to attend the 2016 Pubco Panto. They could just run a video of any of the last few years, just with me airbrushed out and replaced with an MP who will join in telling these £600 delegates how great they and their companies are.
So I can’t next time be the panto baddie, but I can think of a few candidates for the ugly sisters, for Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee and for Widow Twankey and Mike, you’re a nice bloke, but have now proved yourself to be Buttons, the naive but hapless character infatuated with the hero of the panto – and that will make it harder, not easier, to get to the truth and the mutually beneficial tenanted pub sector we both want.
Greg Mulholland MP, Chair, Parliamentary Save the Pub Group, Coordinator, Fair Deal for Your Local campaign