Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Pub closure figures; a brief return

‘Free-of-tie pubs are closing at a faster rate than tied pubs. That is evidence. It is real evidence. It comes out of a number of surveys taken over a whole period of years’

This is what Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, told the Business, Innovation and Skills committee in June earlier this year (see question 53). As I waded through the immense volume of information regarding pubcos and the campaign for reform, it was a claim which always struck me as slightly odd. I couldn’t work out how it quite added up. After all, the numbers of independent pubs reached more than 20,000 in 2012, up 1600 in ten years, as more than 10,000 pubs closed in the same period. How could the sector be growing while shrinking faster than pubcos?

Well, it turns out, the reason is quite clear; according to a new report published last week, it simply isn’t the case.

Pub Closures: the truth, published by the All Party Parliamentary Group last week, pretty compellingly shows how the leased/tenanted sector has seen many more pubs close than those of independent freehouses. It’s quite a significant detail as it counters what has been a core argument against pubco reform.

The figures upon which the BBPA rely are, it seems, CGA figures, which don’t actually track the closure of pubs at all but seek to ‘provide brand owners (and other suppliers to the on trade) with an up-to-date and accurate database of all currently trading on trade outlets’.

But according to those figures, the numbers of independent, free-of-tie pubs which closed between December 2005 and March 2014 is 2,131 pubs, while 5,117 'non-managed pubs' (mainly leased and tenanted) closed in the same period. 

The figures also omit the numbers of pubs which temporarily close following the failure of a licensee, but subsequently reopen under new management within a couple of weeks. This process is known as 'churn' and it simply isn't acknowledged in the CGA figures. So, for example, had The Alma reopened under new management, the failure of Kirsty Valentine's tenureship there simply wouldn't be acknowledged.

According to the report, in leaked figures from Punch Taverns, 'around a third of their pubs would churn in a year'. The report quotes a similar figure for Enterprise Inns.

And, oddly, the figures I quote at the top about the proportion of oubs which are free and independent or tied and managed are from the BBPA itself. So quite how does Brigid Simmonds justifies her statements to the BIS committee, I'm not really clear. 

The MP's report is unsurprisingly scathing in its conclusions:

'It is clear that the reality of trends in the pub sector, particularly where the main problem lies, has been misinterpreted by, or misrepresented to, a succession of government and parliamentary bodies, the Office of Fair Trading, select committees and Business, Innovations and Skills department have regularly quote, and relied upon, data which purports to represent the picture of pub closures.'

And the report ends with a plea to Vince Cable, who has been noticeable by his silence on this issue recently:

'Not only the BBPA myth based on misrepresentation of the CGA figures no longer a reason not to introduce the much needed statutory code with the all important market rent only option in it - but the clear and real evidence of pub ownership trends, pubco disposal figures and documented churn are all key reasons why BIS MUST (the report's emphasis) now do this.'

It is no surprise to see the BBPA are reacting rigorously against the report, eager to refute any suggestion they are spinning the figures or misleading the committee.

A piece in the Publican’s Morning Advertiser published this morning (November 26) said the BBPA was trying to correct ‘false and misleading’ statements about their interpretation of pub closure figures, adding that they would write to the BIS committee to ‘set out the facts’. Their rebuttal includes the lines: 'The accusation that the BBPA claims the free-of-tie sector has seen many more net closures is false' and 'Tied pubs are closing in larger numbers than free-of-tie pubs'. The full piece can be found here.

Meanwhile, I've noticed a new Twitter handle has appeared for The Alma. @TheAlma_N1 appeared over the last few days and has announced that the Stoke Newington pub will be reopening soon. Inevitably, the supporters of the previous landlady will have mixed feelings about this development. But, the new tenant is blameless for the situation in which Kirsty Valentine finds herself and an open pub is better than a closed pub.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The new United Nations Human Rights Council

The world can rest easy. Overnight the United Nations elected a new Human Rights Council which is 'responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe'. It's just as well they all have such personal experience and knowledge:

South Africa

Prisoners suffer abuse by prison guards - employed by outsourcing favourite G4S - including forced injections and electric shocks.


The Algerian government's own human rights authority published a report earlier this year detailing bribery and corruption allegations, as well as failures in children's education and state muzzling of the press.


There is much concern over the Moroccan government's treatment of the Saharawi territories, whose people have campaigned for self-determination. Earlier this year mass graves of Saharawis were found, including children, dating back to 1976, but the persecution continues. And in June, Human Rights Watch called on Moroccan judges to stop jailing people who had confessed, apparently after torture  


Nowhere near the worst offender, but Namibia continues to worry human rights organisations because of continuing discrimination against minorities, violence against women, prison conditions and the rights of peaceful assembly.


Just a couple of weeks ago a campaigner was jailed after calling for his brother to be released on Facebook. Dinh Nhat Uy called for the release of Dinh Nguyen Kha on the social network site; he is currently serving four years for 'propaganda against the state'. Dinh Nhat Uy has promptly been jailed for 15 months for his trouble.


One of the several global human rights abuse specialists to have been elected to this UN committee. Blimey, the list of abuses is endless:

Amnesty International estimates 500,000 are locked up in punitive detention, yet to face any charge and in August, The Guardian reported that Chinese police were to get extra powers to detain people for up to six months without charge and without telling their families where they were.

It is estimated as many as 3,000 people are executed every year in China, more than the rest of the planet combined.

Uighurs and Tibetans are among the many ethnic minorities who have suffered persecution lasting decades.

And of course this is before we get to the totalitarian nature of the Chinese state, the lack of freedom of speech, the lack of voting, etc. etc.

China is the world class expert in human rights abuse.


This honeymoon idyll captured the headlines in February when a court ruled a 15-year-old girl should be flogged for having extra-marital sex. The extra-marital sex in question was being raped by her stepfather. Thankfully, in August, after an international outcry, the sentence was annulled. But the Minivan News reports about the culture of flogging in the Maldives and here you can watch a 17-year-old girl being flogged with a wooden paddle in March this year.

Saudi Arabia

Probably the world's second leading human rights abuser behind China.

There are the obvious crimes, the public executions and crucifixions, with bodies subsequently hanged from lampposts as warnings to all.

Human Rights Watch's world report on Saudi Arabia is very long. The arbitrary arrests of anyone, including children, the routine torture, the horrendous abuses against alleged criminals and the lack of rights for migrant workers are all listed.

And then of course is the lack of rights for women. HRW write:

'Under the discriminatory Saudi guardianship system, girls and women are forbidden from traveling, conducing official business, or undergoing certain medical procedures without permission from their male guardians.'

And this Reuters article gives harrowing insight into the sort of abuses women regularly suffer in the country.

So the human rights of women world wide are evidently now in safe hands. 


'Macedonia is a source, transit and destination country for men, women and children subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour'. 

So says the US Department of State 'Trafficking in Persons Report 2013', published in June this year. To be fair Macedonia has been lauded in its efforts to stamp out this hideous trade but it remains an intractable problem.

Amnesty International highlights homophobic abuse that is still widespread in the country. 


Like China and Saudi Arabia, Russia is excellent at abusing human rights, regardless of international concern.

Greenpeace activists, and an accompanying journalist, are currently locked up awaiting trial, charged with hooliganism and face seven years in jail. 

Their treatment follows the jailing of Pussy Riot, one of whose members just showed up in a Siberian prison camp several thousand miles away from Moscow and her home and family.

Recently, anti-propaganda laws have been introduced against homosexuality, despite the impending Sochi games. Putin says homosexuals are welcome, but presumably as long as they don't tell anyone or, horror, kiss their partners. 

And dare one mention Georgia and Chechnya, on whose soil the most appalling atrocities have been carried out with either Russia's connivance or knowledge.


HRW's world report on Cuba begins

'Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent. In 2012, the government of Raul Castro continued to enforce political conformity using short-term detentions, beatings, public acts of repudiation, travel restrictions and forced exile.'

It may be the darling of some on the left, with Fidel Castro a hero, but its human rights record continues to be woeful.


Few countries in the world have suffered more as a consequence of the misguided and counterproductive 'war on drugs'. As part of the security services' campaign to tackle narcotics, thousands of people have gone missing, been tortured or have been killed.

HRW reports that between January 2007 until mid-November 2012, Mexico's National Human Rights Commission issued reports on '109 cases in which it found that members of the army had committed serious human rights violations, and received complaints of 7,350 military abuses'. Soldiers who commit such abuses 'are virtually never brought to justice'.


Despite its membership of the EU and civilisation, it doesn't escape criticism from bodies including Amnesty International. In its 2013 report, it highlights the problems of deaths in custody, particularly amongst ethnic minorities, it questions its stance against torture in custody and says there is discrimination against ethnic minorities and LGBTI people.

Amnesty also criticises France's eviction of Roma camps:

'Camps and makeshift homes inhabited by Roma continued to be dismantled in forced evictions throughout the year. According to NGO estimates, 9,040 Roma were forcibly evicted throughout France in the first three quarters of 2012.'

United Kingdom

And before we give ourselves a pat on the back, and with relief exclaim 'well, we're not as bad as that lot', well no, we may not be, but then Britain is not an angel either. Since 2011, at least 61 journalists have been arrested in connection with payments to public officials. At least 12 have been cleared of any wrong doing, 23 remain on bail - some for more than a year, a disgraceful amount of time. None of these arrests are strictly human rights abuses but it remains extraordinary.

Oh, and Britain has a long and proud record of selling arms to China, Saudi Arabia and Iran. In fact, it's quite a surprise Iran has failed to be elected to this august body.


It's not the first time the UN Human Rights Council has been a joke and it won't be the last. To make way for many of these countries places like Angola, Libya and Malaysia have left the council.  These countries join, for a three-year term, and 33 others states like India, the US, Brazil, Congo, Kazakhstan continue on the council.  But is it any wonder human rights abuses continue with such vigour when the body tasked with monitoring and protecting rights is packed full of countries guilty of such atrocities?

Friday, 8 November 2013

The last moments of The Alma

Kirsty Valentine outside The Alma on eviction day

It’s 9.20am on a Friday morning and the Alma pub, recently crowned as North London Cider pub of the year by Camra, is busy. It isn’t open. The only drinks being consumed are tea and coffee. Everyone there, locals, friends and supporters, local MP Jeremy Corbyn, writer Pete Brown, are not there to toast landlady’s Kirsty Valentine’s success, but to be with her and offer support as bailiffs are expected at any moment to turf her out.

It’s the culmination of four years of fighting with owners, Enterprise Inns, the pub company (pubco) which own the pub. Kirsty has vigorously campaigned to reduce the rent, claiming it was impossible for her to make decent standard of living; conversely Enterprise claim they have tried to help find a solution.

But the time for negotiation ended on Thursday when Kirsty lost in court.

At 9.30, a representative from Enterprise is standing outside the locked doors of the pub with a man in a hi-vis jacket; he’s the man who will fix shutters to the doors and windows when the bailiff arrives.
Enterprise representative, plus 'shutters man' arrive

A locksmith appears. He looks somewhat surprised at the sight inside. ‘I was told this was a non-confrontational job, look at ‘em. There’s dozens in there. No one wants to lose their local.’ He speaks in a friendly manner, with an energetic, north-London ‘geezer’ accent.

When he does arrive, the bailiff is quiet, evidently keen not to be drawn into a confrontation. Still, two police officers pull up in a marked car, there to ensure there is no breach of the peace. Inside the pub, Kirsty is locked in conversations with lawyers trying desperately to come up with a last minute offer which might satisfy Enterprise’s demands. I’m told that Enterprise have said they will not accept any offer and just want her out (Enterprise dispute this).

Just after ten, the bailiff and Kirsty go to a back room of the pub to discuss matters. It’s agreed that they will leave the pub; there is no need for police, and bags of possessions, heaped on the floor start to be taken out.

With tears welling up, Kirsty goes behind the bar one final time and beckons her supporters to come and join her. They line up and hug; one final act of defiance before becoming a statistic, one of the 26 pubs which shut every week. The Alma is now closed.
Kirsty goes behind the bar one final time


Enterprise insist they are very keen to reopen The Alma as soon as possible, countering fears that it could become a block of flats or a supermarket. In a statement, the company describe the Newington Green site as ‘a great pub with a fantastic community spirit and we want it to continue to thrive’. They also claim that the dispute actually is ‘a clear example where the tied pub model…. has provided extraordinary levels of support, flexibility and ultimately direct financial assistance to a tenant'.

They add: ‘Regrettably therefore, we have been left with no alternative but to revoke her tenancy and will seek to put in place a new operator as soon as possible.’

As for Kirsty, she has lost her home – she lived above the pub – her business and livelihood – ‘they’ve wiped me out in 12 hours’ she says. Friends have rallied round and offered her places to stay while she continues her next move.

‘I can’t even begin to consider anything much because I’m just so, I’m just in shock. It’s a mixture of shock and relief that it’s finally all over.'

As for whether she will return to the pub trade, she is very unsure.

'I need to go away and sit in the corner for a very long time and contemplate things.'

But considering the tumultuous events of the day, she sounds remarkably chipper and stoical; buoyed by the impressive support during her final moments at the pub.

'I was so thrilled, it's made it so much easier to deal with. For many many months, I have wondered what his moment would feel like that and it's nothing like my greatest fears.I don't feel ashamed and I don't feel embarrassed. I feel extremely proud and honoured that everyone stuck by my side. I'm extremely proud I'm going out with my head held high. My staff are very loyal and are extremely upset. It's a very sad day, but at the same token it's made it very much easier to know I'm very loved and respected.'

For more background on the argument between publicans and pubcos, and the campaign for pubco reform, visit here.

Note - for legal reasons any comments left under this piece will be treated with particular caution. Thanks

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Pulling their last pint?

One night the barman at the pub at the bottom of my road was still pulling pints; the next morning he had gone.
Steel shutters were stapled securely to windows and doors, each pinned with notices warning any would-be trespassers to stay clear. A few weeks later the site has been sold, to whom no one knows. and what will happen to this once thriving community pub remains a mystery. Read more