Some firms in the high-Covid, tier 3 areas in England are being forced to shut by the government. These include pubs and bars not serving substantial meals. Similarly, pubs in the central belt of Scotland must close. But how should such businesses and their employees be supported?
As we saw in the blog, The new UK Job Support Scheme: how much will it slow the rise in unemployment?, the government will support such businesses by paying two-thirds of each employees’ salary (up to a maximum of £2100 a month) and will give cash grants to the businesses of up to £3000 per month.
This support has been criticised by local leaders, such as those in Greater Manchester, as being insufficient. Workers, they argue, will struggle to pay their bills and the support for firms will be too little to prevent many closing for good. What is more, many firms and their employees in the supply chain, such as breweries, will get no support. Greater Manchester resisted being put into tier 3 unless the level of support was increased. However, tier 3 status was imposed on the authority on 20 October despite lack of agreement with local politicians on the level of support.
Jim O’Neill, Vice Chair of the Northern Powerhouse partnership, has argued that the simplest way of supporting firms forced to close is to guarantee their revenue. He stated that:
The government would be sensible to guarantee the revenues of businesses it is forcing to shut. It is easier, fairer and probably less costly in the long run – and a proper test of the government’s confidence that in the New Year two of the seven vaccines the UK has signed up to will work.
This would certainly help firms to survive and allow them to pay their employees. But would guaranteeing revenues mean that such firms would see an increase in profits? The questions below explore this issue.
- Identify the fixed and variable costs for a pub (not owned by a brewery).
- If a pub closed down but the wages of workers continued to be paid in full, what cost savings would be made?
- If a pub closed down but was given a monthly grant by the government equal to its previous monthly total revenue but had to pay the wages of it workers in full, what would happen to its profits?
- On 19 October, the Welsh government introduced a two-week lockdown for Wales. Under these restrictions, all non-essential retail, leisure, hospitality and tourism businesses had to close. Find out what support was on offer for such firms and their workforce and compare it to other parts of the UK.
- What type of support for leisure and hospitality businesses forced by the government to close would, in your opinion, be optimal? Justify your answer.
- Is there any moral hazard from the government providing support for businesses made unprofitable by the Covid-19 crisis? Explain.
Pubs are closing down in the UK at the rate of 29 per week. The total number has fallen from 67,000 in 1982 to approximately 52,000 this year. In response to this decline the government has recently announced some changes to the way the relationship between pub owners and their tenants are regulated.
The ownership of pubs in the UK changed dramatically after a report on the beer market was published by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission (MMC) in 1989. When this investigation took place over 75% of the beer in the UK was produced by the six largest brewing businesses (Bass, Allied Lyons, Grand Metropolitan, Whitbread, Scottish and Newcastle, Courage) which owned over half the pubs. The nature of the relationship between these breweries and the landlords of the pubs they owned caused the greatest concerns.
Some pubs are run as managed houses. In this type of business relationship the person who manages and runs the pub (the publican) is a direct employee of the brewery. However, in many instances this is not the case. Instead they are independent entrepreneurs who enter into a tenancy agreement with the owner of the pub. In other words they rent the pub from the brewery and have some freedom over the way it is run including the setting of prices.
These arrangements have proved to be very controversial because of one particular aspect of many of the tenancy agreements – the exclusive supply contract. Known as the ‘tied lease model’, ‘beer tie’ or ‘wet rent’, it significantly reduces the freedom of publicans to run the business, as they have to purchase almost all their beverages from the brewery that owns the pub.
The MMC report in 1989 concluded that a significant reason for the increasing real price of beer was the market power exerted by the brewers through the tied lease model. It recommended that the number of pubs owned and operated by the brewers should be substantially reduced. Known as the ‘Beer Orders’, the brewers responded by gradually selling off 14,000 pubs. They also eventually sold the breweries to international rivals and companies such as Whitbread and Bass moved into the retail, leisure and hotel sectors. Whitbread currently owns Costa, Brewers Fayre and Premier Inn hotels while Bass, renamed Intercontinental Hotels Groups, owns both Crown Plaza and Holiday Inn hotels.
The beer tie between the pubs and the big national breweries might have disappeared but the tied lease arrangement still exists. Instead of being tied to national brewers, many publicans are tied to either smaller regional breweries, such as Everards and Adnams, or another type of business – the pub company known as ‘pubcos’. Some of the larger pubcos include Enterprise Inns, Punch Taverns, Mitchells&Butlers and JD Weatherspoon. They negotiate deals with the breweries and then supply the beer to their pubs.
In 2014, The British Beer and Pub Association estimated that two-fifths of pubs in the UK were owned by pubcos, while another fifth were owned by regional breweries. In 2013, The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills estimated that 48 per cent of pubs in the UK had landlords who were tied to either a regional brewer or a pub company.
The ownership of pubs may have changed radically over the past 20 years but the tied lease system continues to be extremely controversial. The main argument against the system is that it leads to tied publicans having to pay significantly above free market prices for their beer. The pubcos accept this claim but maintain that, in return for being in a tied lease, the publican pays a lower rent and receives business support services.
Parliament passed the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act in March 2015 (see Part 4). This included provisions for the introduction of:
||a statutory Pubs Code to govern the relationship between the businesses that own the pubs and their tenants;
||a new independent Adjudicator to enforce the code;
||a Market Rent Only (MRO) option.
In October 2015 the government announced some proposals for how the MRO option could be implemented as part of its consultation process with the industry. These include giving the tied publican the right to ask for a rent assessment every five years or whenever the owner of the pub significantly changes the beer prices it charges the tenant. As part of this rent assessment the publican can take the option to switch to an MRO contract. This gives them the freedom to purchase beer from any supplier rather than being tied to those supplied by the owner of the pub.
Enterprise Inns, the largest pubco, operates nearly all of its pubs on the tied lease model. In response to the changes proposed by the Government, the company has announced plans significantly to increase the number of its directly managed pubs from just 16 to 800.
Could the tied lease system finally be about to end?
Enterprise Inns to grow pub numbers after death of the ‘beer tie’ The Telegraph, Ben Martin, and Peter Spence (12/05/15)
What is the ‘beer tie’ The Telegraph, Denise Roland (19/11/14)
Q&A: Calling time on the beer tie BBC News, Katie Hope (19/11/14)
Chin chin! Fair deal for pub tenants under a new beer tie crackdown City AM, Suzie Neuwirth (29/10/15)
Industry Reacts to New Statutory Pubs Code Eat Out, Nathan Pearce (29/10/15)
What does new pub code mean for the leased pubs? Burton Mail, Andrew Musgrove (04/11/15)
- What has happened to the big six national brewers which once dominated the beer industry in the UK?
- What factors have caused the decline in the number of pubs?
- Using a diagram, illustrate the impact that the market power of the pubcos might have on the prices paid by publicans in a tied lease.
- Discuss some of the potential advantages of the tied lease model.
- The global brewers and pubcos might create a situation where market power exists in successive stages of the vertical supply chain. Analyse some of the potential implications of this structure and discuss the concept of double marginalisation.
Binge drinking is a problem that has seen much attention, especially with regards to minimum price controls. However, in this blog, we consider attention in this sector concerning taxation on beer.
Alcohol is widely considered to be a de-merit good with negative externalities imposing external costs on society. This is one of the reasons why taxes are imposed on alcoholic beverages. By increasing production costs to the firms providing these drinks, prices rise and hence the policy aims to discourage consumption.
During the recession, many businesses have seen demand fall and one sector hit particularly hard because of this and very high tax rates has been the local pub community. Duty on beer has increased since 2008 by some 42%. As such, many rural and suburban communities have seen their local watering holes close down and this has led to a campaign by CAMRA to force a debate in Parliament, as a means of protecting ‘one of Britain’s oldest and best loved institutions’. Data suggests that 12 pubs per week are closing down, thus the future of the industry is now under threat. This may also have further damaging effects on local communities, as it may adversely affect the social aspect of communities. Camra’s Chief Executive, Mike Benner said:
‘Whether situated in a small village, city high street, or on the edge of a housing estate, pubs are so central to our society that whole communities can grow around a particular pub.’
According to a study, pubs in Lancashire and the West Midlands have been hardest hit by the pub closures. If pubs don’t pass the tax increase on to consumers in the form of higher prices, then they must bear the burden. If they do pass the tax rises on to consumers then the larger chain firms can increase their market share by selling at a lower price. They are also facing growing pressure from the supermarket industry, which are able to sell cheap alcohol, also contributing to going to the pub becoming an ‘unaffordable activity’. The following articles consider this industry.
Pub closures spark beer tax plea The Press Association (30/4/12)
A dozen pubs close each week Telegraph, James Hall (30/4/12)
Calls for beer tax rethink as 12 pubs shut every week BBC Radio 1, News Beat, Steve Holden (30/4/12)
Pubs in the West Midlands hit hardest by pub closures ITV News (30/4/12)
- Illustrate the effect of a tax being imposed on a product such as beer.
- In this market, would the tax be more likely to be borne by the producers or consumers? Explain your answer and illustrate on the previous diagram why this is the case.
- Why are supermarkets able to compete local pubs out of the alcohol market? Do you think a minimum price will have any effect?
- What is a de-merit good? Illustrate the concept of a negative externality on a diagram.
- Explain how a de-merit good causes the market to fail. To what extent does the tax on beer solve the market failure?
- Why are there likely to be adverse effects on local communities? Could this have an adverse effect on economic activity in the area?