He transformed a York pub. But he warns many others are at risk of closure unless things change

Owner Paul Crossman and manager Ian Warner in the Slip Inn. Photograph: Gav Aitchison
21 Feb 2020 @ 5.58 pm
| Food & drink

Ten years ago this week Paul Crossman and Jon Farrow reopened the Slip Inn as a freehouse.

Before then it was going nowhere. Passed from company to company, the historic York pub had been sadly neglected and had few customers left.

Tonight Paul will toast the success of the Slip at a 10th anniversary celebration – now a thriving business, it plays a key role in its community.

Other struggling pubs could enjoy the same success. But they are being held back by unfair rules which benefit only big businesses, he says.

And unless there’s a change in the law, many publicans could be dragged under by this “millstone around their necks”.

Tied down

Cheers! Paul and Ian in the Slip Inn
At the heart of the problem lies the ‘beer tie’ Paul said. This system means companies that own pub buildings can decide which beers can be sold there, rigidly restricting choice and forcing licensees to buy through beer at inflated prices.

Paul said:

  • It is bad news for small breweries and bad news for ambitious licensees.

    It has been heavily criticised by four successive business select committees, but although it came under some statutory regulation with the implementation of the Pubs Code in 2016, the code has been only loosely enforced and the tie remains a millstone around publicans’ necks.

He said the Slip had become a typical tied pub. “It was passed from company to company, and after each sale the long-standing tenant was given different restrictions on what she could sell, sometimes forced to buy beer that she knew would not sell well.

“By 2008, the pub had been starved of investment for years, and was not even close to realising its potential.”

The Slip success story

Historic: the Slip Inn on Clementhorpe. Photograph: Richard McDougall
The Slip has been a pub since the 1840s.

At that time the road outside was a slipway for shipbuilders launching boats onto the River Ouse, while and the land behind was a Terry’s confectionery factory.

Before Paul and Jon bought it, the pub looked at risk. No one was investing in the Slip in the Nineties and 2000s, at a time when 52 pubs a week were closing in Britain.

Paul already ran the nearby Swan. “I could see the potential of The Slip, and so my friend Jon Farrow and I bought it and, ten years ago this week, we began work on our vision to make it what a community pub can and should be.

“Jon sadly passed away in 2017, but tonight he will be in all our hearts as we celebrate ten years of pub freedom and ten years as a community stronghold.”

He said things couldn’t be more different for the pub a decade on. Bar manager Ian Warner sources and sells a wide range of beers from local or independent breweries, and they have invested in the pub opening rooms and improving facilities.

  • Today, the pub is free and its potential has been unleashed.

    Our success and popularity means we can contribute fully to the local culture and economy now, and like all thriving pubs we are doing good work socially, helping bring people together, tackling loneliness and isolation and providing and maintaining an essential additional space.

He described the turnaround as hugely satisfying – but warned: “Thousands of other pubs in Yorkshire and beyond remain hamstrung and hindered by the same flawed systems that once held back The Slip”.

MPs should undertake “a fundamental restructure of the rules that govern the industry, and we need the Government, which extols the free market, to stop supporting a closed market in this sector,” Paul said.

“Every pub should be given the same chance as The Slip has had.”