Pub companies: follow-up - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by George Scott

  I am a pub landlord, having now leased the Eastcote Arms for nearly 10 years from Punch Taverns.

Reasonably soon after embarking on this venture I realised that the contract I had signed in good faith was not what it was portrayed to be (ranging from failing to provide full FMT figures [thereby concealing misrepresentation] to severe service-level failures on a tied supply contract thus hugely negatively impacting the business).

  On 17 November my case (a defence and counter-claim) was struck out of Court on application by Punch at Northampton County Court. This was followed by a recently added application for summary judgement for possession, which was awarded.

  There are many serious issues, which Punch at all levels has consistently failed to address over a long period of time. (I would have got rid of the business long ago were it not for the fact that is was worthless, therefore "un-assignable"). I have therefore solidly stuck to the restitutionary tactic of restoring me to a position where I would have been were it not for Punch's activities—firstly within the company; ultimately using legal process which is where we are today.

  Over the years Punch have used spurious and diversionary tactics to avoid confronting the main issues. I am particularly concerned and outraged at the events in Court last week:

    — When it was alleged in Court to Punch that my reliance on the code of practice (Retailers' Charter), and Punch's repeated assertions that they would adhere to (or even undertake) the process; the response briefed by Punch via their instructing solicitors was that there was no need or legal obligation for them to adhere to such a document/process;

    — And that an illegal (under duress) rent review was irrelevant to my case financially, as there would only ever be an upwards only rent review anyway.

  Prior to this in July this year, when senior Punch representatives became aware of their repeated refusal to adhere to their code of practice (Retailers' Charter), again rather than confront and try to resolve the matters, they attempted to evict me from the site alleging that I was a trespasser.

    — This came after nine years!

    — They used the technicality that the wrong name (not person!) was on the lease.

    — They were previously aware of this and accepted the reasons.

  The fact of the matter is that when matters started to look uncomfortable for them they used any tactic possible to silence me. Fortunately I managed to overturn the July decision.

  Again, before this in turn, in January this year, I wrote to Giles Thorley informing him that there was a long-standing rent (amongst other matters) dispute and that I was going to make one more attempt at resolving the situation. However, the business could not run in its current format, so I would trade on as if Punch were not landlords if nothing were to be resolved. As a result:

    — A failed rent review partially took place ("we can't help you, you'll just have to go to the wall").

    — A senior representative from Punch met with me and again refused to confront the issues but offered to sell me the site.

    — I formed a syndicate and paid for a valuation.

    — Punch pretended to have obtained a recent valuation and stated that a valuer had visited the site. I know this not to be the case.

    — Negotiations suddenly and inexplicably foundered—a parting shot was: "we have possession".

    — Upon further enquiry to a director of the company I was informed that they thought the site had closed, as on one Friday afternoon there was no reply from the pub or my mobile phone and an Area/Ops Manager had seen the site was closed at that time. This was completely untrue as there were two staff, a handful of customers and myself present at all times during the alleged time span.

  This is further evidence of lies and "bully-boy" tactics and how the Courts cannot continue to hold that lessees and pubcos are equal business partners.

  My point to you, Mr Luff, is that the pubcos have undertaken at the 2004 TISC and the 2009 BEC hearings to adhere to a code of practice and not implement upwards only rent reviews as part of a general undertaking to act transparently and fairly. This has also been very recently stated, and more assurances given, at various trade meetings and mediation processes; and therefore widely reported in the press and trade press.

  It is surely appalling that Punch would so recently state in open Court (and therefore as a matter of public record) that there is no need for them to adhere to such principles and undertakings given to so many different organisations. I have requested a transcript of the hearing.

  I firmly believe that this is another example of the inaccuracy of the recent OFT findings and that surely these matters should be referred to the Competition Commission. I am therefore asking you to consider this matter in the context of your Committee's most recent requests for evidence. Obviously any previous deadline cannot be applicable here due to the recent nature of this development. I have tried to be brief in outlining the whole matter. There is much more which I can say which completely belies this company's spin to the public.

26 November 2009

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