Uncategorised / 10 May 2016

Judging the BII Licensee of the Year award

It is always a privilege to be invited to judge the BII Licensee of the Year award, and I think this is the fourth year I have been involved. This year BII had 270 applicants – the most ever, and the final six were invited to meet with the judges in Staffordshire to decide on a winner.

I consider this award so special partly because it is so in-depth. This year, the top 50 pubs had mystery visits, and the last six finalists were inspected in their pubs by the dynamic chief judges; John Sharratt and Ashley McCarthy, who look at everything from cleanliness through to financial sustainability.

The final event took place at The Moat House, Acton Trussell, which is run by a former winner of the Licensee of the Year, Chris Lewis. If ever there was an example of what can be achieved, the Moat House is superb and the food excellent. A great atmosphere on the day, and I had the opportunity not only to take part in the formal judging, but also to meet and learn from the finalists themselves about what the real issues are for them when running great pubs in local communities.

Each finalist had to present to panels on 5 topics; Finance, People and Training, Marketing and Business Development, and Industry Issues. They then had 20 minutes to answer questions. Mark Baird from Diageo and I made up the Industry Issues Team and asked questions about social responsibility, the role they play in their community, and what sort of ambassadors they would like to be for BII were they to win.

We asked them all what they would most like to change in terms of regulation, with all of them mentioning VAT. Many also mentioned business rates, and the difficulties of providing consistent allergy information with changing menus. One idea was to incentivise local authorities to do more for small businesses; there was a clear pattern from all for the role of community pubs. The Living Wage and recent increases in National Minimum Wage were high on the agenda, but licensees agreed that paying staff properly, and investing in training, were important.

Most did not see changing the Licensing Act as a priority, which may be down to a lack of awareness, but was also a reflection of the many food-led pubs who are not encountering problems with the police or licensing authorities, who find the regulatory regime works at a local level. Most operated Challenge 25 and were well aware of their role in looking after their customers. All were going to take advantage of the extended hours for the Queen’s 90th Birthday, with or without the international football available that evening, which depended on whether you had TVs in the pub or not!

What impressed me most was the pubs’ involvement in their local communities. From providing free rooms for Parents/Teachers Associations, to working with the disadvantaged and disengaged, providing an edible beer garden, giving staff healthy meals and helping young parents with nursery vouchers, all played a big role in their local communities. All worked with Pubwatch, and many with other local business trade associations as well. They were all great and made you proud to be part of such an inspiring industry that plays such an important role in society.

I won’t tell you who has won – that has to wait until the BII Summer Event on 7th June, but to Gerry & Ann Price from The Inn, West End (not far from Camberley), Robin & Lucy Brewer of the Rashleigh Arms, Charlestown, Glen Pearson at the Shibden Mill Inn, Halifax, Andrew Fishwick of The Truscott Arms in London, Melanie Carus at The Metropolitan, West Didsbury, and Glen Duckett of the Eagle & Child in Ramsbottom, good luck with your great pubs, which we should all be proud to visit!

Written by

Brigid Simmonds

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