Following the success of the (ongoing!) Fair Deal for Your Local campaign, which remarkably got the Market Rent Only option passed into what became the Small Business Act 2015, there was a strong positive feeling that this working together was the way to ensure that the voice of pubs, publicans and pub campaigners would always be heard, not only on this issue, but on all issues that matter to those groups.
In the past, the voice of pubs themselves, hardworking publicans and pub campaigners was disparate and uncoordinated which made life very easy for the well-funded trade association representing pubcos and big brewers.
A hard lesson was learned when it emerged in 2011 that BIS had cut a deal with the pubcos and their single trade association to back out of legislating and pursue ‘self-regulation’ yet again. It was clear then that the myriad of licensee organisations and separate campaigns was no match for a single, well-funded lobbying group.
That is why I proposed the Fair Deal for Your Local coalition, which was the direct result of that realisation and the impact that has had has been evident to all, not least to the pub companies and BBPA who realised that they would not any longer be the only organisation well no longer were seen as speaking for the pub ‘industry’ but only for their members.
Building on and learning from the Independent Pub Confederation, the British Pub Confederation once again shows that organisations can come together and we intend that the British Pub Confederation will be recognised inside and outside the pub sector as a leading organisation and the authentic voice of pubs, publicans and pub campaigners nationally.
We were especially delighted to welcome Scotland’s leading pub sector body, the Scottish Licensed Trade Association as founder members of the British Pub Confederation and we intend to be a strong voice for pubs in Scotland as well as England and Wales – and working with our friends Hospitality Ulster and other ‘partner’ organisations when it comes to issues in Northern Ireland and the whole of the UK.
We all know too well Britain’s pubs face a hugely challenging environment. The latest figures show that still 27 pubs a week are closing every week, still too many of these are due to company financial positions and weak planning laws, not the viability of the pubs themselves, which is disgraceful. We intend to keep campaigning to stop that.
We will, of course, following the success of the campaign to introduce a statutory code of practice for the large pubcos that included the all-important Market Rent Only option, continue to both campaign on and lobby BIS to stick to their promise to abide by the will of both Houses of Parliament and to introduce a Pubs Code that allows pubco tenants to exercise their right to trigger the independent rent assessment and to take a Market Rent Only agreement, without any further conditionality and free from pubco gaming.
Just as importantly, to try to slow the rate of pub closures, we will campaign for more meaningful protection for pubs in the planning system and to make Ministers face up to the reality that the Assets of Community Value scheme, whilst welcome, is not sufficiently strong and too easily sidestepped to stop closure of viable, wanted pubs against the wishes of communities.
We want to call for changes to taxation that are beneficial to pubs and to licensees, especially ones that apply only to pubs - I recently met with treasury minister Damian Hinds MP to discuss this very issue. Beer duty cuts, whilst welcome, are actually a tax on brewing not on pubs and any cut applies equally to a can of cheap lager in the supermarket as to a pint of fine local cask ale in a pub. So it is time the whole sector got its act together on calling for tax changes that finally reflects not only the importance of pubs to the local and national economy, but also the unique and important role they play in communities. Finally, of course we want to see and will press for responsible retailing from supermarkets and a reasonable and positive licensing regime.
So whilst, of course, part of the role of the British Pub Confederation will be to provide a counter to the lobbying of the pubco and big brewers trade association, the BBPA and to ensure that it is understood that they represent those large companies and their interests and that the British Pub Confederation represents the interests of pubs and publicans and pub campaigners up and down the country.
However, we also have made clear that where we are and have common cause, we want to work together with any other pub sector body – including the BBPA, the ALMR and others. There will, we hope, be some issues, perhaps on reform of pub business rates, where we can campaign together and we would be happy to do so.
We also, of course, away from the white heat of the big political issues facing pubs, do want to celebrate the Great British Pub and will do so with all organisations, publicans and pub goers to do this and are looking forward to throwing out support behind British Pub Week 2016 and hope the whole trade will join together in this, with the Publican’s Morning Advertiser, to have a week of purely positive celebration of pubs and their role in our country and communities, free at least for a week, from any disagreements!
So the British Pub Confederation may only have been launched last month but we are already expanding. We now have thirteen member organisations (unlucky for some!), all significant organisations in the pub sector in their own right and we are discussing membership with a fourteenth. We welcome membership from any national organisation that shares our positive, pro pub agenda and we also welcome associate supporters and are welcoming as associate supporters brewers, campaign groups and individuals who share our vision and aims.
If anyone is interested in backing us in this way, they should email our Secretary, the highly respected award winning publican, qualified surveyor and top campaigner Simon Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org and do follow us on Twitter @GBPubsConfed.
The challenges facing pubs and publicans may be significant - but the success of the Fair Deal for Your Local campaign has shown what can be achieved. We now need similar success on meaningful protection for pubs and on pro pub taxation and we will be a leading voice on both.
Until we see an end to the closure of viable pubs, an end to exploitation of publicans, an end to predatory purchasing of pubs, an end to excessive business rates on pubs and an end to pocket money prices in supermarkets and until we see a more stable, more diverse, more prosperous pub sector we will work, with others, to get positive change to benefit pubs and publicans.
Greg Mulholland MP, Chair, British Pub Confederation