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24 hours is not the problem – !!

Comment 25th July 2010

Before any further reviews or sub-committees are set up (“with industry insiders”) to discuss the continuing debacle of binge drinking in our society, and the laws that surround it, may I at this late stage offer my own comments on a possible way forward.
As a 62 year old ex licensee, with more than 25 years experience in the trade, I have seen most of the situations that regularly arise at weekends in our city centres. It pains me terribly to think of the wasted energies and the lack of moral compass that these young people exemplify. However, I believe that the root of the problem does NOT lie in an all out ban on late drinking, or 24 hour drinking for that matter. There has been a root change in the licensed trade, some of which has slowly evolved with time, but more importantly, a well defined alteration to our laws that occurred in the very recent past; namely the transfer of powers from the Local Magistrates Courts to Local Councils.
Have we all not seen how so many of our councils are overburdened, and may I add, far too heavy at the top end of management in being unable to control their own spending, and yet seem to be able to be aware of and govern everything from the environment to an in depth knowledge of our culture.
The simple fact is that when the Local Magistrates were in control, every late licence application had to be applied for IN PERSON, and good cause had to be given for its use. The Magistrates over a period of time got to know every licensee individually. They made regular visits every 4 or 5 months just to keep an eye on the licensee. In 14 years in my last pub, which was in a village location, I never had 1 single application refused, and I applied for dozens. I kept my house in order, and used my loyal customers to defuse any possible sign of disturbance there might be. At the same time, I have seen licensees who have been turned down at the same time as my own application has been passed, and who have said to me on exiting the court, “How did you get yours, when I can’t ?”I have had a 30th birthday celebration accepted when a 50th. wedding anniversary has been refused; need I say more other than the fact that the magistrates knew who they were dealing with, and treated all the licensees with respect but also with a firm hand.
The problem with the weekend culture in our towns and cities is not new. I was one of a crowd of friends who from our mid teens used to find a pub where we could get a drink under age, but we never abused that privilege because we knew what the consequences would be for both the licensee, and for us from our parents. But those licensees do not exist now.
In those days, most of the pubs, if not all in our town centres were ran by breweries. They knew their licensees and had regular contact with all their licensees through their Area Managers. Today, let us not forget that there aren’t too many breweries left. They are mostly pub management companies whose sole interest is a profit for their investors. This, along with 1 or 2 other extremely important factors is what has transformed the business.
Because of the greed of nearly all the pub companies; one only has to look at the overall investment in pubs at a grass roots level (virtually NIL – unless there is a potential niche market opportunity) and see that this has led to the rapid decline in our pubs in recent years. But where the pub struggles to survive, and the old licensee gives way and retires, the only people today who are available to take over are young people. The extortionate rents being applied have finally dawned on the older licensee that there is NO Profit to be made from a tenancy or at the very least a subsistence income.
Young people are flocking to become managers – an easy way out of not working for a living, but watching everyone else giving them their income. A 20/25 year old CANNOT and never will be able to control the respect of a pub’s clientele if their language and demeanour is that of their customers. In today’s environment, a licensee cannot be one of the boys. He must stand back and manage his business.
My own pub stands as an excellent example of the problem. As I retired, the brewery was taken over by a pub company. After 14 years with the same licensee, the company produced 9 managers in 9 years – 6 of whom were in their early to mid twenties. Their language, attitude and social awareness was that of the clientele they brought with them. My old pub went from being a totally village orientated family friendly pub with customers from 16 to 90, to a virtually teenage club for youths and their girlfriends, whose language in many cases was worse than that of the boys. ALL the older clientele stopped supporting the pub, and it is only now, ten years on that we have a 54 year old licensee who is trying to redeem the situation, but is struggling tremendously to turn the pub round. I digress, but do believe that the above provides an excellent example of the fundamental problems facing the trade.

For my e-mail two of two
own small effort, I would like to propose the following:
1) Re-assign the extended licence applications to the magistrates.
They know the licensees and would therefore have an insight into the premises and any local issues that may result from such applications. Also make ALL new applications acceptable only on a 3 monthly basis initially, and a regular 6 monthly review thereafter, at which time any breaches of the terms would be dealt with and in extreme circumstances the licence be revoked.
2) Insist that all Managers of town centre establishments are a minimum of 30 years of age and BAN BY LAW, all cheap doubles and chaser drinks. If they continue to be advertised outside premises, then prosecute IMMEDIATELY.
3) Differentiate BY LAW, the difference between “pubs & restaurants” and those premises which although classified as pubs, are in fact clubs that have escaped the net of membership by a lack of enforcement of what is allowed in pubs. Dancing and discos were at one time subject to certificates for entertaining and cost a considerable amount of money.
4) In the case of Pub companies, persuade the management to make the BDM’s as they are called now (the old area managers) to be responsible for the management of their pubs.
At one time, a manager could not hold a licence of his own volition, but had to have his area manager’s name on the licence. Ie HE TOO WAS RESPONSIBLE.
5) By force of law, stop pub companies from retailing their goods to supermarkets and off-trade sales below that price applicable to their pubs. If they do have an “admirable working relationship” with their managers and tenants, which the directors of several have purported on BBC’s radio 4 on numerous occasions, then this would go a long way towards reducing the need for offers to attract custom because there would be a level playing field, and therefore no incentive to the licensee.

There is much more to be done, but the above would get to grips with the problem, and not condemn the average social drinker to the kicking in the teeth he keeps receiving from both government and the pub companies. I now have my own business doing accountancy for pubs, and if we are to keep the hub of our villages alive, then the owners must be far more realistic in the returns they expect from their pubs. Government guidance could come in here. When the average rates, council tax and utility charges for many pubs today approaches the region of £20,000 per year BEFORE rent at £18-30,000, how do the pub companies expect their pubs to survive ? That is BEFORE the licensee has bought his beer At the present time, the average licensee is a cash cow for the company who are only interested in their estate’s valuation. Why else are they forever selling their “unviable” pubs ?
It may be late in the day, but I do feel that my voice had to be aired in the current climate, and I know that many of my fellow licensees feel exactly the same way, but like farmers, we are a very competitive people, and have to be to survive, and yet more and more, the trade organizations who purport to represent the licensee, invariably are only representing the organizations that are killing the industry.
PRPMS

Why does this matter?

We are still losing pubs at the rate of 30+ per week. Outside of our cities, the pub IS the hub of EVERY local community, and practically ALL licensees in those situations know the law, and treat it accordingly, but if we continue at this rate, the pub will be dead and buried very shortly.

Local communities will be dead with them !!

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