Sunday, 19 June 2016

If I had a hammer

It’s often said that “if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail”. And much the same is true of the hardline anti-pubco campaigners, for whom all the problems of the pub trade are laid at the door of pubco greed and mismanagement. I’ve written about this here.

Beer writer Pete Brown has now tackled this in this Morning Advertiser article, which will no doubt bring him a lot of flak. I would agree that the pubcos have not been good custodians of their estates, and often give the impression of not really being interested in running pubs at all. Maybe the old pre-Beer Orders Big Six were not too bad after all. On the other hand, he is quite right to point out that many pubs fail because the people running them simply aren’t very good at it.

But underlying this is surely a much bigger point that he fails to mention. The key reason why the pub trade has declined, and so many pubs have closed, is simply because the demand for pubgoing has plummeted. For a variety of reasons, some down to legislation or public policy, others falling more into the category of general social change, people have become much less interested in visiting pubs – especially just for a drink – and the range of occasions when they will contemplate a pub visit is much diminished.

In failing to acknowledge this, the anti-pubco zealots really have their heads in the sand, if not up their own backsides. As I’ve written before, even if every pub had been run as well as the best, I doubt whether it would, over the years, have made more than a couple of percentage points difference to the total trade.

Incidentally, Pete, if you’re reading this, isn’t it time you unblocked me on Twitter? I profoundly disagree with your political views, but you do talk a lot of sense about beer. You baited me, I overreacted, but can’t we move on?

17 comments:

  1. I'm impressed you managed to write this without specifically referencing the smoking ban!

    Obviously the bit about people not being very good at running pubs is true - but the real question is: were they specifically hired *because* they weren't very good at running pubs? I've heard so many cases all over country where the prevailing view is of pubs being deliberately run into the ground so there would be a case for closure. Managed decline with a helping hand of incompetence. Seems to happen too often to be mere conspiracy theory...

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    1. I think this "deliberately running it into the ground" is very much a London phenomenon, where property values often make selling a pub for alternative use a bit of a no-brainer.

      In the rest of the country, closed pubs often remain derelict and undeveloped for years.

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    2. Certainly London focused, but I've heard the theory applied in other places - off the top of my head specifically Ipswich and the Isle of Wight!

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    3. I very much doubt whether the sale of the odd pub or two in Ipswich or the Isle of Wight has affected the overall demand for pubs in those places, though. And, if there is unmet demand, then it's easier than ever to open new pubs and bars.

      It also has to be recognised that there will always be some pubs that are worth far more as something else than as a pub. Unless they're of particular architectural merit, they can't be kept open in the face of economic reality.

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    4. which pubs in Ipswich were they ? theres not one that springs to my mind immediately, weve had Pubcos sell off pubs to supermarkets,New River etc etc, but most of those were dying on their feet,or were doing reasonably ok and were just disposed of to lower their mortgage loans, certainly not run down by the pubco first.

      I always say the modern day Ipswich pub scene, which is a direct consequence of the influence Tolly Cobbold had in the town and that no one pubco or major brewery has ever had a controlling influence since their demise, actually demonstrates out of pubco shackles alot of "failing" pubs can be turned around, its why I never buy the line that failing pubs shouldnt be campaigned for when threatened with closure.

      the only thing I found even remotely controversial about Pete Browns article was, what on earth had the BBC got to do with all that...sigh politics politics its always about the politics.

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  2. Why not just man up and say "sorry I called you a c*nt" to the beardy leftie fat twat?

    Then buy the fella a pint.

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  3. Pete Brown can have a pint of Sam Smith's courtesy of me any time he's in Stockport :-)

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  4. I wouldn't have guessed you were a Pete Seeger fan Mudgie.

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    1. As they say, the devil has all the best tunes.

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  5. Ben Viveur's comment about pubs deliberately being run down is something I have written about myself in relation to former pubs here in north Merseyside. The ones I'm thinking of were mostly in residential areas, they weren't decorated for many years and became dingy and uninviting, only absolutely essential maintenance was carried out, and no effort was made to attract custom. Unsurprisingly, the owners declared they had become unviable, as though that were an inevitable phenomenon rather than an example of an asset deliberately being run into the ground.

    I've no idea about the situation in London, but managed decline has definitely happened here.

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    1. But maybe the owners had made the decision that it simply wasn't worth investing more money in the pub as there wasn't much chance of a decent return. There are plenty of examples in all kinds of industries of "managed decline".

      The pub trade isn't exempt from the normal principles of supply and demand - if the demand is there and not being met, then someone else will step in and cater for it. Especially after the 2003 Licensing Act, it's not difficult to open new pubs and bars, and plenty have sprung up.

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    2. Obviously some pubs will genuinely become unviable as businesses; I'm not talking about those. I'm suggesting that some owners of pubs deliberately make pubs unappealing through neglect and thereby provoke the decline that leads to closure.

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    3. But unless they think it will be worth more sold for alternative use, then why should they do that?

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  6. A lot of people who own pubs, manage pubs, work in pubs forget that they are in the hospitality trade. Therefore, you *have* to be hospitable. When you're taking big chunks of disposable income from punters you *have* to engage with them; whether you like it or not. Fake it, if you have to. But don't ignore us. Don't stare at us blankly. And smile every now and again. It won't kill you.

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  7. I think the point that's often overlooked is that if every pub that existed in 2002 had been "saved", we would have about 25% more pubs than we have now. (BBPA figures to 2014 and 28 ish closed per week since then)

    Very simplistically that would mean each pub doing about 20% less business. That in itself would mean that some at the lower end of the turnover scale could not survive.

    Obviously there are cases where the freeholder will do his duty to his shareholders by getting the best value from his asset by selling a relatively successful pub for alternative use, but that's his right subject to all the appropriate permissions.

    Why can't the closure of one or two pubs in an over pubbed area be good news for the remainder?

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    1. The anti-pubco campaigners would of course argue that if you close a pub, the trade as a whole loses all the business of that pub, which basically is nonsense. There may be a handful of customers who realistically can't, or aren't inclined to, go elsewhere, but in general the trade will transfer to other pubs.

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  8. The rate of pub closures slowed after 1991 following the beer orders which resulted in pub tenants taking full repairing leases often from the then newly established pub co's the tenants did not make sufficient money to invest in the premises but their financial stake made them reluctant to close their premises and as a result many businesses which were at best marginally viable remained in operation.A combination of changed economic circumstances,the smoking ban and a change in the public taste in pub going and demographic changes led to large scale closures post 2007. The effect of keeping premises open for longer than they should have led to a rapid increase in closures and the cause of this increase was not so much managed decline but more a case of the effect of the slow down in the previous rate of decrease being felt later.The industry remains in a state of adjustment with new entrants coming in and these adjustments will continue for some time in the future

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