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Friday, 10 June 2011

Brulines and pub closures

The rate of pub closures has slowed since two or three years ago, but that's not really good news as it means we're still losing pubs.  I gave my views on this 18 months ago (you can read what I wrote here if you want) and don't intend to cover old ground, but the latest issue of Private Eye has suggested another one: Brulines.  These monitor the amount of beer dispensed, and if they show that the pub has dispensed more beer than it has bought from the PubCo, the tenant is fined for breaking the terms of their tenancy agreement as it is assumed that they have bought the excess elsewhere.  These fines amount to millions of pounds per year and are an additional burden on already struggling pubs, and may be enough to tip some into closure.

The Brulines website states: "Our core product, Dispense Monitoring, records the exact volume of liquid that passes to each fount at any minute, of any hour, on any day."  The problem is that, despite this confident claim, more than 400 tests by the National Weights and Measures Office failed to produce a single precise reading.  An error rate of 7% either way was common, and one test was 23% out.  Despite this, PubCos treat Brulines as though they are reliably accurate.

Several tenants are taking their PubCos to court over the issue (there's an article in The Publican here).  I wish them every success but I do wonder whether such inaccuracies would tolerated by the government in any other industry where products are measured and sold in bulk, such as milk or flour?  Official unconcern about this scandal to me is symptomatic of the antipathy that our rulers have always had towards the pub trade, an attitude that goes back centuries.  I'm certain that they take the view that it might be unfair, but if it closes pubs, they'll tolerate it

1 comment:

  1. RD antipathy indeed. Several colleagues and I have been trying to get this issue properly investigated by Trading Standards & NMO. Sadly, and shamefully they seek to do nothing. In one case we helped with, the lady licensee has finally been given advice(four years later), basically telling her what she 'should' have done about it, four years ago. Which of course, may have been helpful had they told her at the time. She has since been litigated into forfeiture and bankruptcy by her pubco.

    Most TS around the country agree that the kit is inadequate, in trade use, and therefore possibly 'false and unjust'. Yet they will not prosecute. A recent meeting with Lambeth TS saw the usual circular arguments; we can't gain access to Brulines data(yes you can, injunct them), it's not prescribed equipment, therefore we can't do anything(yes you can, read s7(3a) and s17 of the Weights & Measures Act), it's like a black taxicab meter(how? A cab driver doesn't try to fine you with the threat of repossessing your family car), it's similar to grading diamonds(good grief!), why doesn't a publican prosecute? (because he can't afford to due to it being cost prohibitive litigation) We don't have enough money in our budget to take a case past magistrates court as we know pubco's and Brulines will appeal to the High Court(so you've answered your last question).

    So in summary the little guys as usual get caught in the cobweb but the big guys pass straight through. Little wonder the current government want to keep the status quo via another bout of self regulation of the industry by the very people that inflict this behaviour on their pub tenants in the first place, big business only interested in the 'rent'.

    DL

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