13:18 Thursday 06 February 2014

Pubco sets up MP talks

Written byROB SMYTH

A BURTON-BASED pub giant is set to invite MPs to discuss a host of concerns raised ahead of crunch talks on its future.

Punch Taverns, based in Centrum 100, has offered MP Greg Mulholland, and other members of the The All-Party Parliamentary Save the Pub Group, the opportunity to discuss fears raised over beer prices and tenants’ deposits.

It comes after a war of words erupted between the company and Mr Mulholland in the wake of negotiations over the restructuring of the firm’s £3 billion debt mountain.

The row began after Stephen Billingham, Punch executive chairman, wrote to Mr Mulholland after the MP expressed concerns over the future of pub tenants if a planned overhaul of the firm was not to go ahead.

Mr Mulholland raised his fears as part of an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, just weeks after the Centrum 100 firm outlined plans to secure its future.

Mr Mullholland said: “The concerns are that if Punch is forced into administration, with or without a debt restructure, there will be insufficient funds to reimburse or transfer deposits to new freeholders and the tenants.”

Mr Billingham responded by saying: “The board believes that the restructuring proposals will, if implemented, provide a robust platform for our business going forward.”

Bosses were forced to act after Mr Mulholland accused the firm of ‘clear market manipulation’ as he claimed the firm had been overcharging pubgoers for beer over the last 10 years in its pubs.

Andy Slee, central operations director for Punch Taverns, said: “In our view, this is the latest in a series of wild accusations from an MP.”

These comments again saw Mr Mullholland approach Punch for clarification on the situation.

Now it has emerged that the firm has offered MPs the chance of a meeting to discuss a variety of concerns.

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