Pub company bosses have insisted the Asset of Community Value legislation is having a detrimental impact on their business and hampering efforts to keep viable pubs open.
Speaking at last week’s The Pub Conference, Marston’s chief executive Ralph Findlay said pub operators now risked significant damage to their reputation simply for trying to dispose of underperforming assets. Speaking on the same panel, Punch chief executive Duncan Garrood supported the intention of the legislation but its application often ignored the real reason for pub closures.
Separately, Faucet Inn founder Steve Cox told MCA that he would never have been able to build up a significant pub estate in the current climate and said ACV was hampering entrepreneurship in the pub sector.
Garrood said: “We are seeing certain parts of the country where ACVs are now becoming very common. We all accept that there are occasions when pubs should be considered assets of community value. There is no doubt that preserving pubs in a community where you are in a last pub in the village situation is a good thing to do. But we have to be realistic – pubs are commercial businesses and they have to be used by the local community in order for that business to be viable. The best way to ensure the survival of pubs is to use them.
“I think the indiscriminate use of ACV belies the realities of the situation – that if pubs are not being used then long term they are not going to survive.”
Findlay: “I think ACV is having quite a big impact. We sold about 600 pubs in the last four years and I’m glad we have got that behind us because we are now pretty much done with disposals.
“It seems to me that today every pub put up for sale – even if it’s performing very poorly – suddenly gets listed as CAMRA’s Pub of the Year, MPs are writing letters and there are people protesting outside the head office. Reputationally it just isn’t worth going through that. That leaves the sector in a difficult position.”
Cox told MCA: “The ACV legislation – and more specifically the way it has been put into practice – has had a huge impact on us. I have grown this business from scratch and the way I would do that is buy pubs with scope to develop space into accommodation or whatever. The proceeds from that would fund the next acquisition.
“If I was starting out today it would be very, very hard to grow the way that I did. What does that mean for all the operators who are starting out now? It makes it very hard to make your own way forward.”