Corby pubs fight for their future over 'greedy' pub companies' demands for rent
Pub and club landlords across Corby have made a public appeal over what they say are unfair demands for rent during lockdown.
Publicans from the borough have spoken out after it was revealed that some large pub companies are still expecting their tenants to fork out for rent incurred during the coronavirus pandemic. Landlords say there will be permanent damage to the town's pub trade.
Corby Pubwatch chair Mick Willey has written an open letter to the borough's MP Tom Pursglove to ask for his help in lobbying ministers to make things fairer. Mr Pursglove has agreed to raise the issue with ministers and has written to Secretary of State for Business Alok Sharma MP.
The Pubwatch letter says: "All my members fully support the Governments lockdown rules as absolutely essential to reduce the spread of this terrible disease and to support the NHS.
"Unfortunately many are putting on brave faces whilst there is a deep darkness hanging over them. For many their place of work is also their family home. Many landlords are having their rent 'deferred' meaning that after what will be months of closure, when pubs will be allowed to trade they will be in massive debt.
"I have heard various stories where landlords have stated that they would move out of pubs and into other accommodation for financial reasons only to receive threats from the brewery.
"Landlords' rents are based on the pubs annual trading. So, if you have a year better than the last your rent is increased, but they fail to suspend the rents when, through no fault of their own they can’t trade. On the top of this they expect landlords to remain onsite acting as free security for the brewery's property.
"Many landlords were left with thousands of pounds worth of stock, which they have to buy from the brewery that owns the premises, when the lockdown was suddenly imposed. This stock is now out of date with some breweries refusing to refund licensees.
"Imagine sitting in a closed pub with thousands of pounds stock lost, not trading, making no money, stacking up thousands of pounds in deferred rent debt, paying utilities for large buildings and trying to feed your family. And when government financial assistance comes through they are then being bullied by certain breweries into paying the back rent."
Cliff Morton, who runs the Viking Club and the Knight's Lodge in the town, is backing the #nopubnorent campaign that has been launched on social media. He said that his own brewery, Everards, has been a shining example of how to look after publicans after it offered a range of measures to help them survive including suspending rent payments.
But he said other big pub companies had not been so generous.
He said some publicans in the town had tried to surrender their leases, only to be told they would lose thousands in deposits, and others had been told they had to stay on site to provide security with zero income. Some pub landlords had been told they must use their £10,000 government small business loan to pay rent to the large corporate breweries.
He said: "I’m seriously concerned about the mental health and wellbeing of pub tenants in Corby and the surrounding areas - tenants who have ploughed their life savings into a business (and in most cases their new home) are being held to ransom by greedy pub companies who are deferring or demanding rent from these tenants while pubs are closed.
"After speaking to one landlord locally who had already been through the thought process of where his kids were going to go if he took his own life, I decided that it was time to speak out.
"They can't see a way out. What these pub companies are doing is immoral.
"Having previously had a pub with one of the big companies I know exactly how they behave. They use bullying tactics.
"I would be very, very worried that the pubs that are owned by the greedy pub companies won't reopen because the landlords will just chuck it in."
Several large pub companies run up to 75 per cent of Corby's licensed premises.
One of those is Star Pubs and Bars. It's managing director Lawson Mountstevens said: “In addition to the Government’s waivers and grants to help cover rent, salaries and other fixed costs, Star Pubs & Bars is providing rent reductions to pubs on an individual basis and suspending the collection of any rent until at least June or whenever pubs reopen.
"We know the rent relief, which represents a significant investment on behalf of Star Pubs & Bars during challenging times for the whole industry, and the support we provide on a pub by pub basis will have a significant bearing on the future sustainability of our licensees’ businesses – and clearly we want to see our pubs thrive in the long-term.”
Enterprise Inns (Ei) Publican Partnerships also runs pubs in the town. A spokesman said: “We are communicating directly with our publicans and have advised that rent and charges continue to be deferred for the foreseeable future.
“The Government grants which are now being paid directly to them are welcomed, and we will continue to work with our publicans on an individual pub basis in order to best provide the right level of support and assistance when the industry is permitted to re-open for business.”