Pub Companies - Business, Innovation and Skills Committee Contents

Written evidence submitted by Mark Beckett

I am writing in a personal capacity to express my dismay at the way that the Pub Co's, and particularly Enterprise Inns, are being portrayed during the current select committee investigation.

I should state my interest in this issue at the outset. I joined Enterprise Inns at its formation in September 1991 as Financial Controller, a role I held until 2006 when I took up a new role as Project Accountant.

The picture being painted of Enterprise Inns bears no resemblance to the organisation that I have had the pleasure to work for for almost 20 years. The organisation is, and always has been, professional, honest and well managed and I am immensely proud to have played a very small part in the development and success of the Company.

We are very lucky to have incredibly talented and committed publicans running most of our pubs, in the majority of cases we are able to work closely with these publicans to deliver mutual success. Our business needs our publicans to be successful.

Any small business failure is a tragedy for the individuals involved, however setting up and operating a small business is risky in any sector and unfortunately there will be failures. This does not mean that Enterprise or indeed any other Pub Co is responsible for these failures.

Small businesses are under immense pressure at the moment, the pub sector having been damaged by the credit crunch, recession, smoking ban, excessive duty increases and to cap it all the VAT increase to 20%.

Enterprise has taken unprecedented steps to support publicans during this difficult time. Our support is targeted at publicans who run their businesses well and who have appropriate controls in place.

We have provided increased discounts and rent concessions, this support is completely discretionary. There is no contractual obligation on Enterprise to take this action. We do this to support publicans who are struggling despite their very best efforts in the knowledge that as their business recovers both parties will reap the benefit.

I do not believe that Enterprise has ever claimed to be perfect, the Company is made up of around 500 people, individuals just like our publicans who come to work every day trying to do their best. Individuals make mistakes and I am sure that our employees make mistakes. Where we do make mistakes we are committed to fixing them quickly.

At your recent "evidence" session our detractors claimed that no progress has been made, this is clearly nonsense.

Since the last enquiry we have implemented fully our updated Code of Practice. I know this because the majority of my time over the last 18 months has been spend managing the project to implement new systems and controls that enable us to ensure that all our commitments are honoured.

The Code has been in place for almost a year now and as reported by the BII only a small number of very minor breaches have been recorded, despite the fact that hundreds of new agreements have been signed under the new Code.

I cannot think of any other business that puts as many hurdles in front of new customers to make sure that they fully understand the deal that is being offering before they sign up. At every opportunity we recommend applicants take appropriate advice, we require applicants to meet our training requirements and produce a full business plan approved by a suitable qualified trade accountant. We provide disclosure about the property condition as well as trading and investment history. Our view of the business in the form of a detailed profit & loss account is provided before negotiations commence.

The process is completely transparent. No one is forced to sign an agreement with Enterprise. As a public limited company Enterprise is under constant scrutiny by shareholders, auditors and analysts, unfortunately our detractors are not scrutinised in the same way. It appears to me that your committee finds it difficult to accept evidence provided by the trade, but you accept opinion and misstatement from our detractors without any serious form of challenge.

I urge you to bring some form of balance to the debate, accept that great progress has been made by the industry, and at the very least treat the evidence of our detractors with the same level of cynicism that you seem apply to evidence from the Pub Co's.

26 July 2011

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