Grand Met may be needled by Nail

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The Independent Online
ATTEMPTING to hit the nail on the head will assume a different meaning for the directors of Grand Metropolitan at tomorrow's annual meeting. The normally placid gathering of shareholders carries the promise of being a more lively affair.

Grand Met, one of the world's biggest drinks companies, is under attack from landlords of the 6,833 pubs it controls through its Inntrepreneur Estates Limited (IEL) subsidiary.

Representatives from the National Association of Inntrepreneur Lessees will stage a protest outside the Grosvenor House Hotel and bombard the board, headed by Sir Allen Sheppard, with questions.

Specifically, Nail is concerned about the terms and conditions associated with leases held by landlords of IEL, the pub company Grand Met jointly owns with Courage, the UK brewer controlled by Foster's of Australia. Some landlords say the leases are unworkable, and will lead to bankruptcies.

Grand Met, for its part, has anticipated Nail's plans, and has briefed staff on how to handle awkward queries in the shape of an in-house memorandum listing questions that may be asked and the appropriate answers.

In answer to 'What is the organisation called Nail and what are its main points of contention with IEL?' Grand Met will say:

'In the main the members (of Nail) tend to be lessees who have fallen into serious financial problems and have obtained legal aid to conduct litigation against IEL, ostensibly based on a challenge to the beer tie under EC rules, and on alleged misrepresentation of facts and figures relating to a pub's turnover etc at the time of the lease being signed.'

Other questions include: 'Is the Inntrepreneur lease still popular?' Yes, says Grand Met. And another asks: 'Do you intend to sell any more pubs from the IEL estate?' Possibly, says Grand Met.

Oh yes, and question five asks: 'Why is Inntrepreneur getting such bad press? And the concluding sentence of the answer reads: 'Interface with journalists and opinion formers as part of our ongoing educational programme will play a key role in putting the record straight.'

I think it would be prudent to anticipate a phone call.