The Broadfield is one of my very favourite pubs in Sheffield but it does seem odd that a company can seemingly offload all is debts simply by selling itself to itself for essentially nothing. They sell beer from lots of smaller breweries who may not feel able to bear such costs and stop selling beer to the company which will then be forced to sell boring beer and will become a boring pub. You can see where this is going. Anyway I'm happy that it is still going to be there.

By the way, I can't help noticing that about 1/4 of this newsletter is essentially adverts for itself and catch ups, which has become the norm. Maybe paid subscribers could get an 'ad free' version?

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Thanks for a timely article about True North BrewCo and its financial difficulties. Timely because last week the Council’s Finance Committee took a decision to lease a section of (publicly-owned) Millhouses Park to this same company for the True North-owned Waggon & Horses pub on Abbeydale Rd South to use as an extension of its serving area.

The amount of the rent, and other terms of the lease are being kept secret on the grounds of “commercial sensitivity”, according to the Committee Report. This may be “standard procedure” but it does make it difficult for the local community, and the citizens of Sheffield, to assess whether this arrangement gives Value for Money – which all Councils must by law achieve when making such arrangements.

In making such a Value for Money assessment there are a few factors that might be taken into account. First, the Waggon & Horses has actually been using this extension space for over 2 years - since April 2021 - but without paying any rent. This means the Council have effectively paid the costs of converting the space; for the sales kiosk, the tables and benches, and the fencing etc. with its gates into the Park: and that the Council will also have effectively subsidised the pub during that time. This was not unusual during Covid, but it has not been acknowledged.

Secondly, the Tenancy at Will - the legal instrument that permitted TNB to use the land until the lease was agreed - has had to be ended by the Council twice because the pub was selling items that were forbidden by the terms of the tenancy. However the Tenancy was twice renewed to enable the use to continue while the Lease was negotiated - a drawn-out process described in the Committee’s Report as “protracted” and “difficult”.

Lastly, when True North started negotiating for the lease of this space [in 2017-18] Kane Yeardley promised a donation of around £20,000 to the Park for new playground equipment. It must be galling to the local community, and especially to the Friends of Millhouses Park, who have raised thousands of pounds and organised many voluntary activities to support the Park, that this donation to the Park has somehow been forgotten in the agreement of the Lease.

The details of the several companies mentioned in the article are of especial interest, as the Committee Report reveals that the Lease is actually being made to another new company - the “K S Yeardley FCB Pension Scheme”. It is not clear how this company is related to the main True North BrewCo that leases the pub itself, the freehold of which incidentally is owned by the Council.

Who benefits?

The Committee based its decision on the benefits to Park users, enjoying the offer of eating and drinking facilities in addition to the previously-existing Park Cafe and the ice-cream van.

It did not mention the benefit to the Council of the income from the annual rent - not disclosed - nor the continued survival of the pub as a local business (given the number of pubs shutting down over the last few years) Nor did it mention the additional benefit to pub customers of an eating space further away from the busy main road and its harmful emissions. All these most people would accept as worthwhile.

However the claim in the Report that “the area around Millhouses Park is not as well served by café offers as other parks and localities” does not ring very true. Just down the road at the Millhouses shopping area there are two more pubs, a fish-and-chip shop, three cafes and two take-aways - hardly a minimal offer.

But are there costs as well?

The Park did not get its donation - although Parks & Countryside Service do maintain that the Lease will allow the upgrading of the playground equipment anyway. Since we can't see how much P&CS are getting that is difficult to test.

The Council did not receive 2 years rent either: and how much Officer time has been spent on the “protracted and difficult” negotiations? Mention of a possible withdrawal of the Tenancy altogether brought a threat of legal action from TNB, according to the Report.

Millhouses Park is a popular destination park and car-parking has long been a problem. It does have two car-parks but there is a charge and too many people prefer to park for free on the main road and often - and inconsiderately - on nearby side-roads. The Waggon & Horses also has its own car-park but it's not large nor easy of access, adding to the road-parking. The local community bears the brunt of this.

And what of the wider implications for local democracy and transparency etc.?

The negotiation of such “partnerships” and similar arrangements between our Parks & Countryside Service and external bodies, whether commercial ones like True North BrewCo or voluntary and community organisations, is supposed to be governed by a Council Policy called Building Better Parks, adopted in 2018 partly as a result of the initial proposal from True North for leasing the space in Millhouses Park. The Policy requires meeting clear criteria for value for money, community consultation, etc. But it's difficult to see how these are being met in this case; and it is not clear if other instances of arrangements under this Policy have been any better managed.

Some of the requirements of the BBP Policy might be of interest:

- the Council to maintain control of the policy and assets under the arrangement

- partners to the arrangement to be aligned with the Council's priorities and values

- potential partners to be both viable and sustainable

Perhaps further monitoring by the Tribune of how things evolve might be helpful for all interested parties.

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