Simon English: Vampire pubs cross as little man wins rare victory

Midweek View: Lives were ruined. In the worst cases, publicans ended up sick with worry and later destitute

For more than a few Britons, the idea of running your own pub is a lifelong dream. You'd have the place just the way you always imagined your ideal boozer would be. Serve only the beer of which you yourself approve. Absolutely no Dexy's Midnight Runners on the juke box. And no bicyclists either – not in my gaff.

You'd have an ever-wider circle of mates around to marvel at your own little castle while you held court behind the bar, dispensing wisdom and the odd free drink.

For many, the reality of running a pub, especially as a freelance landlord of a property owned by a hugely powerful pub company, turned into an utter nightmare.

Pubs in miserable places that had eaten the soul out of numerous ambitious entrepreneurs would be rented out at absurd rates by pubcos with few scruples.

Retired couples would bet their pensions, or their redundancy pay-offs, on hopes of turning around a struggling venue that more experienced landlords would run a million miles from. No warnings were given about how tough the task ahead might be.

Complex contracts that even industry insiders found hard to follow would be signed in haste and regretted at length. The beer tie – the obligation to buy beer from the pub company – squeezed margins, and made it near impossible to compete with the pub down the road that operated free of the tie.

And most of the beer you had to purchase sucked anyway.

Lives were ruined. In the worst cases, the publicans ended up sick with worry and overwork and later destitute. The pubcos sighed as if they cared, and signed up a new victim.

Today into this miserable picture arrived a rare glimmer of hope.

After months of fighting from concerned MPs and publicans who could take it no more, Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said he wanted a statutory code to oversee these pubcos and a new watchdog with the power to investigate allegations of misbehaviour and issue fines.

As a sign of what good news this is, the British Beer & Pub Association – the lobby group for the big players – said it was "disappointed" by the moves and made the predictable moan about "unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy".

(Their own complex rules were just good business, of course; for them, anyway.)

In truth, the industry had years and many warnings to reform itself, to stop doing its best impression of a bloodsucking vampire.

The publican and Fair Pint campaigner Simon Clarke put it like this: "For far too long, tied pub tenants have been abused by big pub-owning companies. Many have lost their livelihoods, savings and have lived in fear of losing their home. This announcement comes after many years of highlighting this unfairness."

For many individuals, it is more than a mere pity it took so long. I got to know a guy a few years ago who had packed in a successful, lucrative trade in the music industry to pump his considerable fortune into running what he thought was a lovely Sussex pub. Three years later, he was divorced and living in a council flat. He hadn't seen his son for months.

Maybe he was a bad businessman, but the point is that the pubco didn't care either way – it got its pound of flesh whether he succeeded or failed.

Mr Cable said: "There is some real hardship in the pubs sector, with many pubs going to the wall as publicans struggling to survive on tiny margins. Some of this is due to pubcos exploiting and squeezing their publicans by unfair practices and a focus on short-term profits. Four select committee reviews since 2004 have highlighted these problems.

"Last year, we gave the pubcos one last chance to change their behaviour, but it is clear that the self-regulatory approach was not enough, and in October I wrote to the industry to seek their views. A change in the law is now needed to shift behaviour."

Back at the BBPA, they are carping that "self-regulation should have been given a proper chance to work" and pleading for the new watchdog to operate with a "light touch" to "protect consumers" from the brunt of extra costs.

There are lots of reasons why a pint of beer is an increasingly expensive thing. None of them are to do with powerful pub companies not being allowed to shove around near powerless landlords.

A rare result for the little man, then. You could drink to that.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Convicted art fraudster John Myatt
art

News
people

Life and Style
fashion

News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
Life and Style
Passing on: George Washington died alert, aware and in his own bed. This is the kind of of death most people would like to have
health
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tv
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Financial Sales Executives

£19000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to our clients continuing s...

Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

Argyll Scott International: 2x Service Desk Analyst

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Argyll Scott International: Service Desk Analyst Re...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Execution Trader

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global Rolling Spot FX, Comm...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game