Chris Jowsey: The pub boss is looking to put local people in business hospitality industry

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As summer approaches, Chris Jowsey’s Geordie good humor evaporates and he finally loses patience.

Admiral Taverns, the boss of the 1,000-strong pub chain, has joined industry leaders in raising the alarm for months about the energy crisis hitting small businesses like a freight train, calling on ministers to come up with a plan.

Then when pubs renew their energy contracts and are quoted five or six times what they paid before – or refuse supply altogether – it is soon too late.

We raised this issue with the ministers six months ago, we told them that there is a power problem and it will be serious.

Landlords have warned ministers that 70 per cent of the UK’s 47,000 pubs could eventually be closed and still nothing has come of it.

Things got worse as the Tory leadership race progressed.

“For eight or 10 weeks there was a complete void and it seemed like the people who could make a difference had their eyes elsewhere,” says Jowsi.

“After going behind closed doors, we decided to go public without getting anywhere.”

Under the umbrella of their trade body the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA), brewing and pub bosses – Jowsi among the most vocal – have called on the government to impose energy caps on small businesses and avoid a catastrophic winter in the industry. The series of Covid-19 lockdowns are still raging.

It moved £20,000 above the average energy costs charged to tenants of the Admiral-owned premises.

“A small community pub used to pay £15,000 a year, now it’s more than £50,000. This is more than their profit, so the pub is effectively closed. There should be a short-term intervention,” he said.

In the absence of that intervention, Jowsi took the unusual step of entering the wholesale energy market on behalf of the 160 pubs from which the company buys power.

Admiral is buying directly from an oil and gas producer, bypassing energy suppliers, though it won’t say which one.

Perhaps that reluctance stems from the belief that companies that should be traded now are profiting from everyone else’s suffering.

“If the cost of the underground energy does not change, but the prices are very high, someone is making too much money and eventually, should they be able to make those super-profits?” No, I don’t think they should be.”

Corporate bosses aren’t usually the first to argue for windfall taxes — there they go, for the grace of God — but Jowsi’s view is deeply felt by the community. Its own Newcastle and North-East. Brown Alle’s short spell at Newcastle was a “dream come true”, and he and his two sons are regulars at Newcastle United FC.

He said there was some level of moral conflict with the club’s new Saudi owners, but said he was “desperate for some success and some hope he will bring it to the region”.

The 57-year-old’s story has inspired the belief that pubs are fundamental to keeping communities alive.

“I grew up in pubs, social clubs, sports clubs, where people gather. I think we are chipping away at a lot of the things that hold the community together and the local pub is one of the few left.

“When the pub goes, the community is affected in ways that are difficult to recover from. In many communities, there is nothing else left.

Will the decision-makers step up their rhetoric to honor the best of Britain?

“So many local MPs recognize the importance of pubs to their communities and want to be seen to support them. When you enter the ministerial level and senior officials in the civil service, that understanding is less.

“We’re world famous for beer, and a tourist coming to England wants to drink English beer in a typical English pub. It’s not copied anywhere in the world and I’m not sure people in government realize that.

Figures released this summer by real estate consultancy Altus Group show that the number of pubs in England and Wales has fallen to a record low of less than 40,000.

Jowsi thinks the industry is beginning to stabilize pre-pandemic after a long period of decline, from supermarket booze deals to lower drinking rates among young people and the 2007 smoking ban.

That’s the ultimate red herring, because despite running “wet-run” pubs that don’t serve much food, he says only a “handful” of licensees harken back to the local’s smoky days. , if so.

Fish, chips and mushy peas
The war in Ukraine has cost pubs fish for food. ‘Most of them were from Russia and now they are not,’ says Jowsi. Photo: Gary Calton/The Spectator

But smoke-free or not, the downward trend is in danger of accelerating again. To that end – with no government bailouts in sight – Admiral says he’s trying to help tenants cut costs.

It doesn’t always work. Amid rising prices, licensees at the White Horse Hotel in Hampshire walked out of the pub last week after failing to agree terms with The Admiral. Jowsey explained that this was not a big bad accident, evicting tenants who couldn’t satisfy his hunger for profit. “There is a significant cost associated with seeking a new licensee. We want people to stay in the pub and be successful.

At the Dartford sports bar where we meet – originally from Admiral’s typical country community boozer – the company has spent £300,000 to cut energy costs. New equipment is being rolled out to pubs to make it even easier for people to pay their energy bills.

Pubs, however, have other burdens. Food and beverage inflation is rising, partly due to the war in Ukraine.

Jowsi mentions the curious fact that a good portion of the average pub’s fish and chips came from waters controlled by Vladimir Putin until recently.

“Most of them were from Russia and now they don’t bring them. We have not yet experienced inflation like that of grains. This morning, brewers were talking about a big increase in the raw materials that go into brewing. This will be over the next six to 12 months.

Staffing is another problem, with hospitality businesses across the country struggling to attract new workers and the old EU workforce not readily available post-Brexit.

However, Jowsi finds hope in his work of providing communities with much-needed hospitality.

After going to Oxford University, he saw many of his friends moving into the city, something he “didn’t like at all”. He worked in the NHS, created an ill-fated dotcom-bubble venture and eventually landed in hospitality, for Scotland and Newcastle, then part of Heineken, before being snapped up by Admiral.

Enjoying the job means new talent can create a bright future for British pubs.

“Old people started on the shop floor and it’s still one of the few industries where you can say that. If you get into this industry, you can set yourself up for a big career and become a multi-million pound business in just a few years.

“And basically, it’s a lot of fun. I’ve been at it for 20 years and I love it.

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