Dear old Vince is not helping the great British pub

Vince Cable's plans over tied tenancies in pubs are counter-productive, says Heineken's on-trade managing director Lawson Mountstevens.

by Lawson Mountstevens
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013
It’s a sad fact of life that pubs have been struggling to survive in recent years. They’ve been battered by falling beer sales, high business taxes, and competition from coffee shops and supermarkets. Many pubs have struggled to cope as more people choose to spend less time and money in their local.

Now they face a new threat as the government wants to reform the way tenanted pubs work. Vince Cable thinks his proposals, which will allow some tied pubs to sell beers not supplied to them by their owners, will stop more pubs going under. I’ve worked in the beer and pub industry for over two decades, I’m passionate about pubs and don’t want to see more community pubs closing. But I’m afraid that the approach set out in the ongoing consultation exercise being run by the government will seriously damage the sector and lead to more closures.

I do believe the Government is as concerned as we are about the future of the pub, and we were delighted in March to see the chancellor cut the price of a pint and remove the hugely damaging beer duty escalator. That was a good step forward, but I also believe that the tied tenanted pub remains critical to the future of this country’s pubs.

Heineken owns 1,300 pubs across the country through its pub company Star Pubs & Bars, and we lease them to publicans to run them as their own business. They decide what’s best for the community, they employ the staff and they decide how it works. We provide them with our beers and ciders as well as training, investment and business support.

Just last week the Eastfield Inn in Bristol reopened after a £230,000 investment by Star Pubs & Bars. Without the tied tenanted pub model, it's hard to see where most publicans could access this kind of money. They certainly won’t find their local bank manager in a generous mood these days. We offer the right people with the right business experience and entrepreneurial spirit the chance to get in to this industry for £10,000 up-front investment. That opens the door to a pub for the majority of people who simply can’t afford to buy a freehold pub.

That’s why the tenanted pub is so important. I believe the great British pub is the gold standard and as a brewer, we are in the business to sell our ciders and beers. I don’t think continued decline is inevitable. A great pub can get customers back. I know that when we invest in the right pub, in the right place with the right landlord, we can grow the pub business. That's why we are investing £13m this year to improve our pubs, over and above the money we spend on general maintenance.

We are calling for the government to think again. We need to work together on a plan for growth that gets more people back in to the pub. If we don’t do that, no amount of rules, regulations and formulas will convince ordinary people to open their wallets and spend more of their hard earned cash in their local.  

Not everything is perfect in the industry, but we believe that, for the vast majority of our tenanted pubs and publicans, the system is working and can continue to be improved. What we don't need is increased bureaucracy red tape and intervention. What we do need is for the government to heed our call and work with us on an agenda for growth. I’ll toast to that.

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