John Harris

Journalist & Author

Do you fear for the future of your local pub? | John Harris

Pubcos are threatening the existence of traditional boozers. We’re looking for stories about local pubs facing the squeeze

For its next instalment, Anywhere but Westminster is going down the pub. To be more specific, we’re aiming to look closely at the decline of British boozers, their place in millions of lives, and an overlooked aspect of what some people call irresponsible capitalism.

The idea was sparked by a pre-Christmas read of Paul Moody and Robin Turner’s great book Looking for the Moon Under Water: The Search for the Perfect Pub (extracted here, with a G2 spinoff here). Around 20 British pubs close every week, and a few factors are blamed – among them, the smoking ban and the rock-bottom price of alcohol in supermarkets. But there is another story: the imbalanced relationship between big pub companies (or pubcos) and their tenants, and the government’s failure to do much about it.

The issue seems simple enough: as countless publicans see it, these firms charge tenants above-market prices for drinks and repeatedly squeeze them even further by upping rents. To make things worse, the government is clinging to that tired and useless notion known as self-regulation, having so far only agreed to set up an independent panel to review how it works, rather than doing what a lot of people want and coming down on the pubcos much harder. MPs’ postbags and inboxes are full of correspondence about all this, and it was the subject of a Commons debate back in January.

Over to the Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland:

“The business model of the pubcos has been akin to the banks. They overvalued their estates, borrowed vast amounts of money against that and when the property market collapsed, they found their ludicrous valuations were wrong and they suddenly found themselves billions of pounds in debt. They are trying to service those debts – mainly with foreign creditors – by taking more and more from the turnover of each pub.”

So, do you know of a pub being squeezed, or even threatened with closure? If it wasn’t there, what would be missing from your town, and your life? How can the pubcos be resisted? And what can be done to save this blessed institution?

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