Campaign for Real Freedom
Local beer writer Ronald Atkins wrote a series of articles entitled ‘Campaign for Real Freedom’ for the journal ‘The Independent Imbiber.’ The following is an edited version of the piece that appeared in the October/November 2002 issue.It provides a valuable historical background to the current dispute.
Earlier articles under this heading, published in 1998, were inspired by the epidemic of pubs being swallowed by large chains and having their choice of beers cut back as a result. The second article described how the epidemic had affected me personally, with the sale of the local Beard's chain to major
In my part of
However, the article foresaw long-term dangers. The logic of Greene King spending over £14m. (a figure of £17m. has since been suggested) on around forty pubs that were not at the time selling substantial quantities of their beers pointed to freedom of choice being eventually curtailed. We are now seeing a policy on precisely these lines being put into practice.
From the start, the range of non-Greene King beers was restricted to those authorised by
To give a brief historical perspective, Harvey and Beard were the two surviving breweries of Lewes, each with a small tied estate. When times became hard for regional breweries in the Sixties, it was agreed Beard would stop brewing and allow
During that period, Greene King claim there has been a large swing from
Greene King's new policy came to the general public's attention towards the end of August, thanks to one of the regulars at the Kings Head in Chailey, who got press coverage when more than 130 people signed his petition protesting at the imminent removal of
"We bought the pubs....and went round and told each and every tenant that we would be withdrawing
[But in] the next issue of the Sussex Express, the front-page headline celebrated the survival of
A different spokesperson from Greene King now claimed 'We have no plans to withdraw
One suspects the decision taken over Lewes stems from the competitive element. Apart from it being
Breweries, including Greene King, that allow even a limited and authorised range of guests do not force them on their publicans; they are meeting a demand - small, perhaps, but sufficiently important - for something different. Many licensees would love to be given the chance of stepping slightly outside the tie; they invariably have customers that, for whatever reason, refuse to drink the house beers, and a guest ale might be the way to keep them coming back.
An insight into problems faced, not just by landlords but also by quite substantial breweries, can be gleaned from reading between the lines of the Greene King-Harvey affair. "We are withdrawing Harvey's because it is a rival", was the original excuse. Fair enough, except that many Greene King pubs in this area continue to sell non-Greene King beers.
Coincidentally, there has been a spate of rumours, some quoting large sums of money, about Greene King allowing landlords to retain Harvey's provided they accept a rent increase. This gives extra meaning to the remark quoted earlier that "discussions are continuing".
Add it all up, and you get a tale of a pub company concerned about maximising their profit margin on sales of a particular product.