|A pub tie, yesterday|
These are steps in the right direction, certainly, but I seem to be having a feeling of déjà vu. I recall CAMRA being equally rapturous when the Beer Orders were announced. At the time I simply couldn't help wondering who was going to buy all these pubs that the big breweries were going to dispose of. Both CAMRA and the government expressed the expectation that many licensees would take the chance to invest in their pub and convert them into free houses. With thousands more free houses, the range of beers would improve and everyone's a winner. But it didn't happen: we got pub companies instead.
CAMRA states: "Publicans could see the price they pay for beer fall by up to 60p a pint if the new Adjudicator forces the big Pub Cos to match open market prices. As a result we could see cheaper pub prices for customers, more investment in pubs and ultimately fewer pub closures."
Well, I hope that's true, but I have some reservations. Pub Cos are ripping off tenants because they are horrendously debt-ridden, with massive loans taken out when finance was good, but leaving them in a bad situation to cope with the current recession. If the Adjudicator does crack down on sky-high rents and beer prices charged by the big pub companies, the question is: what impact will that have on the Pub Co business? Will they be able to survive? If not, what will happen to pubs suddenly cast adrift? Few licensees would wish to buy their businesses, assuming they could afford to, so would the newly freed pub estate get hoovered up by supermarket - or indeed other retail - chains? I can't see any saviours waiting in the wings.
I've little sympathy for Pub Cos, as they brought their current precarious financial state upon themselves, but I do hope we are not sleepwalking into another disaster of Beer Orders proportions.