Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Government - "Not in the business of keeping pubs open"

In the Community Pub Inquiry the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) are reported to have stated that they are not in the business of keeping pubs open. It is my view that government regulation and legislation is a major contributor to the failure of the pub as a small business.

DCMS are responsible for government policy on tourism and leisure including licensing laws. They are the main department that could do something to prevent the demise of the small pub.

We should remember that every small business that needs to employ a few people or has public areas are all having similar problems. The small corner shop, the little greengrocer or butcher are also burdened. There may be some advantages of the legislation that has been brought in. It is much harder now for rogue traders to do a bodge job on your electrics or your gas central heating. Perhaps this is good. Perhaps the small independent pub is just one type of small rogue trader that needs crushing.

The difference between the corner shop and a pub is complexity of the business, and if you are a small shop owner please don't be under the illusion I think you have an easy job. A pub has nearly every aspect of legislation to deal with. Health and safety at work, food safety, public safety, alcohol licencing, public disorder, employment rights, building regulations, fire safety, public entertainment, performing rights licence, etc. On top of this, because of the vast range of products that the pub goer expects to have available, has very complex accounts. A pub is possibly the most complex type of small business there is to run.

The problem is, for the small pub, the regulations are completely pointless. Take for instance the fire regulations. Last year their was a fire at a hotel in Newquay where 3 people were killed. That was tragic. The interesting thing is that the event made a major news story as would any hotel fire that killed people. The fact is that this incident, though very tragic, is extremely rare and despite continual increases in legislation there is little if any reduction in fatalities in the small community pub. The current situation is that the fire safety inspection is now the responsibility of the pub owner - the fire service is now just an enforcement rather than inspecting authority. This is a measure brought in to save costs for the government but puts these costs disproportionately onto the pub.

A similar situation arises with food safety. The new HACCAP regulations are designed to reduce the incidence of food poisoning by less than 20%. If you knew the complexities of HACCAP then you would understand that for a small business this far exceeds the laws of diminishing returns. In fact I imagine this sort of regulation simply distracts the licensee from actually running a safe kitchen as he or she is often the one in the kitchen telling the staff to keep the raw chicken away from the lettuce. If the licensee is too busy filling in paperwork then this is time away from safety supervision. HACCAP should not be required where the business owner acts as a daily on the job supervisor.

I am no fan of the Pubco. I am unlikely to ever be one unless I end up owning a chain of pubs myself. I am sure that they have a commercial advantage by having the resources to tackle the swaths of regulation that exists. The sole freehold trader does not have the advantage of this support. It is with some surprise then that several Pubco's have contributed evidence to the inquiry and they all seem to be supporting the idea that regulation has gone far too far.

So consider these things next time you are canvased by a Parliamentary Candidate. Ask them what they are going to do about regulation that has gone far beyond the point of sensible diminishing returns. Specifically ask them if they are going to simplify legislation that affects the pub industry. Ask them if the Government would like to make it their business to keep pubs open or if they think the small pub is a rogue trader that needs to be eliminated.


Jeff Pickthall said...

I have a vision of New Labour Daleks - "Regulate, Regualte, Regulate..."

The Woolpack Inn said...

Excellent Jeff!!

I don't want to be branded a "right wing nutter" but it has to be said that this government is no good for the small pub and appears to be intent on wiping them out.

Making points to support this theory does have the effect of incorrect accusations of political alignment when all we are trying to do is show the reality.

Alistair Reece said...

It would seem that this government, probably in common with many, fails to understand that the driver of any economy is the small, local business of which a community pub is the prime example.

By removing the viability of such small businesses (on a side note, with all the crazy regulation, it is a wonder the human race ever survived at all without bureaucrats to tell us what to do), the government is inadvertantly tearing the heart out of communities across the nation.