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Roscoe: great victory for all pub lovers

Added: Monday, December 28th 2020

Carol Ross

Carol Ross is battered, bruised but victorious. “I have to keep pinching myself,” she says. “I can’t believe I own the Roscoe.” But her 10-year battle with pub companies has finally ended and she and her family can now run the Liverpool pub they have put their heart, soul and savings in to.

There were times when she thought she would lose everything – the pub, her income and the home above it. The struggle with Punch Taverns and Hawthorn Leisure took its toll on her health and she admits there were times when she thought of throwing in the towel.

But she was encouraged to fight on, thanks to her legion of supporters.

This is a story not only of a brave publican but also of the shocking behaviour of large pub companies. Their treatment of Carol Ross is breath taking, with a callous disregard for her interests and her loyal customers. She’s not alone.

“Many decent landlords have got out,” she says. “With the rents demanded and landlords responsible for upkeep, they just couldn’t make a living.”

Carol is a vastly experienced publican. She ran the historic Philharmonic in Liverpool before she and her family took over the Roscoe Head in 1997. The pub is named in honour of William Roscoe who campaigned against the slave trade on which much of Liverpool’s wealth was based.

It was a different world in the 1990s. The Roscoe had been owned by Walkers of Warrington, who became Tetley Walker and finally Allied Domecq. Carol says she had a fair deal with the brewer whose Vanguard lease had incentives for their tenants if they sold a good amount of beer.

That world was shattered on the anvil of the Thatcher government’s Beer Orders that led to most of the national brewers leaving the industry. The pubcos were borne and tenants’ lives were never the same again.

Carol had a lease with Punch that forced her pay an eye-watering amount of rent that rose from £17,000 a year to £20,000 and then to £31,000 after the pub was refurbished. Her original lease allowed her to have one “guest beer” free of the tie but one day a rep from Punch came to the Roscoe, pointed to a beer listed in the main bar and said “that’s not one of ours”.

Carol said it was her guest ale but the man from Punch told her to read her new lease: the guest beer provision had been deleted. Punch then took Carol to court for selling beer outside the tie. She suffered the indignity of the pubco sending in a company called Brulines that ran tests on her cellar to see if she was selling beer in breach of the tie.

She wasn’t but relations with Punch were so appalling that she hoped for a better life in 2016 when it sold the Roscoe to Hawthorn Leisure, the pub-owning division of New River Retail. It wasn’t to be. Hawthorn refused her MRO – Market Rent Only – in order to buy her own beers, on the grounds the company owned fewer than 500 pubs and was outside the terms of the Pubs Code.

Carol’s lawyer found that Hawthorn, after buying a package of pubs from Marstons, owned more than 700 pubs and was covered by the code. Hawthorn responded by saying they would take the pub into management in 2021 when Carol’s lease expired. Liverpool & District CAMRA and Friends of the Roscoe won an extension of the Asset of Community Value listing on the Roscoe that gave both sides more time to reach a settlement.

Hawthorn responded by offering to sell the Roscoe to Carol for £485,000 and gave her just two weeks to reach a deal with her bank. The final settlement is confidential but Carol is a tough Liverpudlian and it was a lot less than the first asking price.

Finally she’s free and can now offer the beers she prefers. Make no mistake – this is a significant victory for Carol Ross, her family, Liverpool drinkers and pub lovers everywhere.

First published in What’s Brewing, January 2021.Picture courtesy Liverpool Echo.