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Struggling Norwich tied pubs could get lifeline

PUBLISHED: 06:30 23 September 2011

Stella Baldry, the landlady of The Artichoke in Norwich

Stella Baldry, the landlady of The Artichoke in Norwich

ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC © 2009

Tied-pub landlords in Norwich could find trading easier in the future if recommendations in a government report are introduced.

The report looking into the relationship between pub companies pubcos and their lessees is calling for new industry statutory regulations which could punish any business that steps out of line.

Pubs tied to companies such as Enterprise Inns and Punch Taverns often have to buy their beer at higher prices from the company, while freehouses can look for the best deals.

As the Evening News’ Love Your Local campaign, which aims to get people back into pubs, has shown, many publicans in Norwich have struggled to survive the recession and have criticised pubcos for a lack of financial and moral support.

The new report published this week by the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills BISC committee found that self-regulation of the industry had failed and that the implementation of a voluntary code of practice for pubcos had been “half-hearted” with a lack of sanctions available for non-compliance.

The report is calling on the government to urgently consult on how to make the code of practice law backed by a statutory code adjudicator armed with a full suite of sanctions.

The code demands transparency and disclosure from pubcos in the setting of rents and that all contracts must be fair, reasonable and comply with all legal requirements.

The report was welcomed by pub landlords in the city yesterday including Sue Coleman, who runs the Stanley in north Norwich.

She said: “We would welcome a proper code of practice that had to be complied with by everyone. We are tied to Punch Taverns and while we did have problems in the past with them, they do seem to have listened and reacted.

“The whole point of the code of practice is that pubcos need to be more open and keep the lines of communication open. It would also help the pubcos understand more about what’s happening on the front line.”

Stella Baldry, landlady at the Artichoke in Magdalen Road, north Norwich, also called for the code to become law.

She said: “We are tied for beer to Enterprise Inns. A keg of Foster’s would cost about £70 wholesale, but we have to pay about £120 from Enterprise. Some tied pubs have to get all their products from the pubco.

“I think if the code was law then it would make it easier as, at present, there does not seem to be any rules that must be complied with.”

Patrick Cutter, former landlord at the Bull in Hellesdon, quit the business earlier this year over a dispute with Enterprise Inns.

He said: “I think it would be invaluable for people who wanted to go in and run a tied pub to know that this code of practice had to be complied with. It would make it fairer.”

Adrian Bailey MP, chairman of the BISC, said the industry had failed to work successfully within the voluntary code.

He said: “Pubs are businesses, and they need to be able to succeed as businesses, but they are also at the heart of our communities, and we are losing them at an alarming rate. The government must set out the timetable for a consultation on how to put the code on a statutory footing, as a matter of urgency.”

The report said that the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), which represents pub companies, had failed to enforce its own timetable for reform.

However, Brigid Simmonds, its chief executive, said: “We believe we have demonstrated to the select committee that significant progress has been made by BBPA member companies which operate tied tenancies and leases, and we reject the committee’s calls for a costly statutory code.

“Tied pubs continue to offer a low cost means of entry for self-employed pub entrepreneurs.

“It is a combination of the smoking ban, economic recession and the 35pc increase in beer taxation which the industry has endured since March 2008 which are the real reasons why pubs are closing.

“We call upon the government to recognise these economic pressures and ease the burden on pubs.”

A spokesman for Punch Taverns said it fully supported the BBPA’s statement on the report.

An Enterprise Inns spokesman said: “The Enterprise Inns Code of Practice already addresses the main issues highlighted in the BISC report on pub companies, and our evidence clearly demonstrates its effectiveness.

“Over the last few years we have introduced new lease and tenancy agreements with substantially increased discounts and even more flexible options for licensees to choose from.”

Meanwhile, the Campaign for Real Ale CAMRA is demanding that pubcos allow their licensees the option of selling one guest real ale bought at free market prices, and start offering lessees a free of tie option at a fair rent.

For more stories from the Love Your Local campaign, visit www.eveningnews24.co.uk/loveyourlocal.

Have you got a pub story? Call reporter David Bale on 01603 772427 or email david.bale2@archant.co.uk

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