Some 170 publicans from all over the country attended this year’s Vintners Federation of Ireland AGM which was held in the Rochestown Park Hotel in Douglas, Cork. Topics discussed and debated ranged from insurance to turnover bands and transportation.
In reviewing the hammering that the rural publican has taken in the last 12 months Vintners Federation of Ireland Chief Executive Padraig Cribben bemoaned the lack of TDs from outside Dublin at the Cabinet Table. This has had repercussions in relation to such items as the revised drink-driving legislation that increased the penalties for those just over the limit.
What’s more, despite promises, only eight of 158 TDs voted against the drink-drive legislative amendments.
Padraig Cribben mentioned too that other hospitality representative bodies were now “crying crocodile tears” as they realised the impact of the new drink-driving legislation on their members.
“We got no support from them when the VFI requested it,” he reminded delegates. On the upside, there have been 920,000 views of the VFI’s own ‘morning after’ video online.
Sustainable rural transport system
Those outside large cities need a sustainable system of rural transport in this country, not just to get to the pub but to the rest of the community, pointed out the Chief Executive.
“We’re getting a lot of talk, tea & sympathy – without the tea in most cases – and there is no one solution,” he said.
“We need action on an Uber-style system of transport and support for local community initiatives but insurance is also an anti-business factor,” he added, “With the forthcoming elections don’t be afraid to let them know your views on these topics.”
The conference subsequently passed a Motion from Galway that “The VFI deplores the lack of a suitable and reliable system of transport in rural Ireland. We call on Government to take the necessary steps immediately to ensure that such a system is implemented”.
Insurance & payouts
The first Motion at the AGM, from Management, that “The VFI deplores the lack of political commitment to real action in reforming the insurance industry. Real action rather than pious words is urgently required to prevent more outlets going out of business with the attendant stress, trauma and job losses,” was passed by delegates.
Cork delegate Michael Farrell stood before the Federation’s AGM three years ago seeking that it lobby to establish a Book of Quantum.
“The legal profession is not for change as they get around 40% of the payout so why would they want change?” he asked this year’s conference, “I suggest we push for holding a referendum to take payout awards away from judges and their colleagues.”
This “runaway gravy train” was escalating and affecting everyone in the country, not just publicans, he said, “Payouts are not reflective of injuries”.
His Motion “That the VFI lobby to ensure that the findings of the Public Injuries Commission report in respect of the Book of Quantum are implemented in advance of the November 2019 review. Failing this, that the Government should take whatever measures are necessary to put a cap on awards in line with international norms,” was passed by conference as was another Cork Motion “That it be made illegal for the legal profession to offer ‘no foal, no fee’ arrangements to litigants,” following Michael Farrell’s suggestion that “Ambulance-chasers be made illegal”.
The Federation is looking at alternatives in relation to insurance and examining the feasibility of setting up a mutual insurance company of its own with a study to be presented on June 11th or 12th.
Minimum Unit Pricing & fees based on turnover bands
Ireland is only the second country in Europe to have meaningful legislation on MUP on the Statute Books, Padraig Cribben pointed out, however VAT was also increased in the last Budget.
“The reason given for this was that hotel prices in Dublin were overheating,” said the Chief Executive, “But there’s a world outside the M50 where people are trying to run their businesses against heavy odds.”
Some of these “heavy odds” would include the business rates and turnover bands imposed on pubs around the country.
Cork’s Michael O’Donovan pointed out to delegates that the six turnover bands for pubs ranged from Bands A to F under the Finance Act of 1992.
“Many businesses have changed their price structure and turnover bands since then” he explained, “especially as inflation for this period to 2018 is 63.8%.”
His Motion “That the VFI seek to have the licence bands adjusted to reflect the level of inflation experienced since the introduction of the current rates,” was passed by conference.
Staggered closing times – in the dark
There had been some talk of staggering closing times in recent days, said Padraig Cribben. Josepha Madigan, the Minister for Culture, stated that she’d consulted with all major stakeholders “… but strangely not to the pubs – so we’re still awaiting the detail in order to address it”.
Developments over the past 12 months in terms of employment law brought the Chief Executive to highlight that, “In the past 24 hours Patricia King of the Unite trade union is reported to have said at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions Conference that ‘the hospitality trade’s policy is to work people as hard as they can for as long as they can for as little as they can get away with’, but Patricia should know that within the last seven or eight years the hospitality industry has delivered 55,000 jobs.
“She also needs to know that for a lot of our members, if they put their own hours against what they take home themselves, she’d find many working for a lot less than the Minimum Wage.”
With alternative attractions being so plentiful these days the biggest challenge for the pub is to stay relevant to the consumer who’s changing rapidly.
“In the last decade the number of 18-25 year-olds not drinking has gone up from 18% to 29%,” Padraig Cribben told delegates.
There’s a greater emphasis on health by this demographic now too, he stated.
And there are other serious threats to the pub with the negative perception of alcohol being portrayed by “a very pliant” media.
“With a recent report stating that Irish women were the fourth-highest drinkers in the EU, one female senator was quoted as saying, ‘Alcohol is a poison’,” he told delegates, adding that such challenges need to be faced head-on with statistics.
Furthermore, red tape designed for big business is affecting small businesses.
The spread of recreational drugs in every town and village is also having a negative effect.
“Spend is being diverted into this instead of into the pub. More resources and input are required than targeting people bringing their kids to school or mass of a morning.”
There were also opportunities though.
“Publicans are reinventing themselves and their offering – and winning,” he said, “Tourism is an opportunity, but only if one gets involved in local initiatives.”
The rates issue is also current and Padraig Cribben pointed out that, “Waterford was the first county to be re-rated in 2011 but it’s unlikely that the legislation can be changed to take account of the last six months”.
A Motion from Galway “That the VFI condemns the inequity in the application of commercial rates and calls on Government to immediately address the discrepancy. A gap of 10 years in applying a similar system to all outlets is unfair, anti-competitive and not sustainable,” was passed by conference following Pat Gilmore’s pointing out that many counties will be revalued again before the final six counties will be valued in the first place.
“Those businesses feel that they’re paying over the limit in rates in those six counties and ask VFI to seek revaluation immediately.”
But Padraig Cribben pointed out that a similar motion had been passed last year and the Minister had stated that it was all down to available resources.
44% insurance increase for publicans with no claims
Vintners Federation of Ireland members with no claims have still seen their premia rise by 44% over the last five years.
This figure was given by Peter Boland of the Alliance for Insurance Reform who gave a presentation to delegates following the AGM.
And while he described this 44% insurance premium hike as “scandalous” it was dwarfed by figures from other sectors such as the grocery sector which had witnessed a 73% increase during this time and play centres which had been subject to a 537% increase.
ISME had reported increases of 82% and there was no sign of it easing up, he said.
However some progress had been made in that Section 8 of the Civil Liability & Court Act 2004 which reduces the period for the reporting of accidents to within a month had now been made mandatory. There were seven pieces of legislation pending to address such issues as Quantum, fraudulent, exaggerated and misleading claims in court and keeping policy-holders informed on claims.
Momentum on such issues was being maintained by the Alliance by generating as many stories as possible to put political pressure onto the situation, “… because the Cost of Doing Business Report virtually ignored insurance when it reported,” he stated.
“But with momentum there are also blockages,” he added, “There are an enormous number of bills working their way through the Oireachtas at the moment.
“Brexit and the local elections are a priority and then there’s a possible General Election.”
He also claimed that, “It has never been clearer that vested interests are at play here”.
Insurance costs were becoming increasingly unsustainable with lawyers making over €350 million a year in the personal injury compensation space, he continued.
“Insurers too have a turnover of about €2.2 billion between motor and liability insurance and then there’s the medical profession and brokers – all of them want to make money out of this.
“But only one sector can push through the reforms needed here and that is government.”
And he urged VFI members to lobby effectively on this in an election year with immediate focus on a couple of key reforms:
* The setting up of a Garda Insurance Fraud Unit – “I cannot understand why this has not taken place”
* A Book of Quantum for minor injuries.
While there were several pieces of legislation working their way through the Oireachtas at the moment he’d also like to see a schedule from insurers of forecast reductions.
“The Judicial Council Bill will help on the education of judges but make no mistake the legal reps will fight tooth-and-nail to defend their incomes.
“They’re now looking at introducing defamation and stress into play after this,” he warned.
Following Peter Boland’s presentation Padraig Cribben pointed out that, “Peter is only able to work on the Alliance business part-time as against the two best-resourced industries in the country – insurance and law”.
Some 360 attended the dinner-dance held later that evening.