Monday, 10 October 2011

On The Pub Industry

I grew up in a small village in Bradford. It's a great place, with a wonderful sense of community where everyone looks out for one another and you know all your neighbours. When I was growing up, as well as his regular office job, my dad always worked in one of the three local pubs for a few hours a week in order to have a bit of extra money coming in to the house. Consequently, I spent a fair bit of time in them myself as a child. Five years ago, the project my dad worked for was winding up. At the same time, the landlord of the pub he worked in was looking to sell the place. The stars aligned and at the end of October 2006, we took it on.

My dad took to it like a duck to water. We all did. As well as my dad and his wife, my cousin and I lived there too, all pitching in and trying our damndest to make a real success of it. It's bloody hard work, running a pub - you get up at 9.30 in the morning and don't get to bed until about 3 the next morning, and there's always stuff to be done. I've done it on my own for up to a week at a time and felt like a zombie for the whole week afterwards. I don't know how my dad's done it, but he always has.

At first, we made a great go of it. Profits tripled thanks to us working our arses off, putting on events, getting real ales into the pub and always wanting to do more.

At this point in the story I'll break off and explain how most pubs work. A PubCo (in our case, Enterprise Inns) own the building and lease it to the landlord. As a condition of the lease, the landlord has to buy certain products from the PubCo or its affiliates. This is called a 'tie'. We were reasonably lucky in that our tie was only for lagers, bitters, ciders and one real ale (out of 3 real ale pumps) - basically anything that comes out of a tap. The wine, spirits and bottles we could source ourselves. Now,  the reason for the tie is that anything you buy from the PubCo will be around 50-100% more expensive than getting it from, say, the cash and carry. It's essentially a racket - and some pubs have to get everything from the PubCo, which is something the Competition Commission have been interested in for some time, but multi-billion pound corporations have a surprising way of making these things be ignored.

Anyway, after about three years of us being in the pub, everything was still looking rosy. My cousin and I had moved out. I continued working there, and my dad loved it and poured his heart and soul into the place. Trade had slowed a bit due to the recession, but we were still in the 'safe zone'. Then it came time for the Rent Review - every long-term lease has a clause that allows the rent to be changed after a certain period of time. We got a letter from Enterprise saying that because we'd been doing so well, they wanted to double our rent and give us a full tie. Considering that we were already paying £26,000 per year in rent alone to them, we thought this was a tad unfair. Eventually I read through the lease (all 400 pages) and found out that doubling the rent was not allowed under it. We threatened them with going through arbitration at the local courts. They kept piling on the pressure and making veiled threats about the 'massive legal bills' we'd face if we lost. Considering we had a pretty airtight case, we held firm and eventually, the day before we went to court, we received a letter saying "Actually, keep the tie as it is, we just want a 20% rent increase". I can't help but think that was their plan all along - say something so ridiculous that anything sounds reasonable afterwards.

So we started paying over £32,000 in rent to Enterprise per year. As this happened, the Tories came to power and people started losing their jobs left, right and centre. Everyone was skinter. People who'd come to the pub twice a week started only coming in once. Some people had to stop coming all together. Still we were being cock-hammered by Enterprise because of the halcyon days. Now my dad can't afford it any more. He's told me he's been hemorrhaging money, but will never tell me how much debt this has left him in. He's leaving on the 30th October, exactly five years after starting his dream job.

Enterprise Inns (and all other PubCos) are robbing vulturecunts. Enterprise barely put a penny into the pub. When the smoking ban came in, they refused to even consider putting any money towards a smoking shelter - we paid for it. They are thieving property-developers who know nothing about the pub industry but just skim any profit a landlord might hope to make away. Pubs are closing at a rate of knots due to these bastards. And they don't give a shit. Here's the thing - when the good landlords leave, they install shitty temporary landlords at a fraction of the rent, and if they fuck up, it doesn't matter, because they can just sell the pub. Most pubs were bought at the beginning of the 90s and are now worth many times more than what was paid for them. Oh, and when they sell them, they insert a clause in the contract saying that the building can't be used as a pub for 25 years, to protect their other investments.

It's one of the ugliest faces of capitalism (not that it has a good side). This industry and countless landlords and their families are being throttled by a handful of companies, squeezed for every possible penny they could provide. And there's nothing you can do. Pubs that aren't owned by PubCos are as rare as rocking horse shit, and the people that have them won't give them up quickly.

PubCos don't give a fuck about anything other than the constant drive to make more and more money. They don't care about pubs being the hub of the local community. They don't care about all the good they do. It's just PROFIT PROFIT PROFIT. And the landlords can't take it any more.

I am going to miss that pub so much. When I go home for a few days tomorrow, I know that will be the last time I ever go there. By fuck we had some good times. But I will never pay a penny of my money over that bar to the management company that will be taking it from my dad.

And if I ever see Ted Tuppen, CEO of Enterprise and all round nasty shitehawking bastard, I'm going to set the utter shitprick on fire.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. When we met on Twitter, we had an arugment & I was being all self-righteous about how I've reclaimed 'cunt' for my genitalia and don't like hearing it as an insult.

    But then I read this post. And I have no other vocabulary for referring to these people. CUNTS.

  3. Of course, a lot of these pub companies have been struggling in recent years. There are various reasons for that (plenty are self-inflicted) but a serious problem is the mass migration of custom towards big shiny chain pubs. The public get the pubs they deserve.. and, it seems, they deserve The Walkabout. The twats.

    It's a shame that the previous generation of owner-landlords sold out and let these companies get so much of the real estate. But the co's that bought it all up are now trying to squeeze their returns out of an ever-decreasing portfolio.. so every time they close down a pub that has ceased to be viable, they will look to make that money by increasing what they get from those that are. That penalises those people who take a pub and do a good job.. on the one had I could say 'that's what you get when you dance with the devil' but, on the other, I recognise that often there's nobody else to dance with.

    It's a shame that they're able to restrict the future use of properties they sell. If they were prevented from doing that then at least private landlords would have a better chance of starting up independently.

    Mind you, I could play devils advocate a little… if someone leased a piece of land from the government to look for (say) oil, and they found it, wouldn't you think it reasonable for the government to levy a windfall tax on the profits made from that land? That's the principle behind what the Pubcos do. But, of course, your example shows that their mechanism can be counterproductive.