IT wasn’t so long ago that it seemed positive steps would finally be taken to improve the tempestuous relationship pub tenants often have with their pubco landlords.
Around this time last year, a bruising report by MPs on the Business Innovation and Skills Committee slammed the pubcos for failing to “deliver meaningful reform” on the issue. That was despite it being the fourth time MPs on select committees had highlighted concerns about pubcos’ behaviour towards tenants in seven years.
MPs criticised the British Beer & Pub Association for failing to deal with the imbalance they perceived in the pubco-tenant relationship, and recommended that the government put the code of practice that underpins it on a statutory footing.
While tenants would have been heartened by what the BIS committee had to say, little much has changed since.
No sooner had BIS delivered its findings than the government ruled out removing the beer tie – for many tenants the most constraining aspect of their lease deals.
Ministers also dismissed the possibility of placing the code of practice within a regulatory framework, effectively leaving the pubcos free to continue to self-regulate.
All was not lost, though, as the government did promise to make the code legally binding, and to work with the industry on a range of reforms.
This package of “self-regulatory” measures was to include the creation of a Pub Independent Conciliation and Arbitration Service; a Pubs Independent Rent Review Scheme; and a Pubs Advisory Service.
There was also a commitment to ensuring the company codes of practice were re-accredited every three years, while an independent review panel would be set up this autumn to review the progress made by the industry’s updated code.
So while the government didn’t deliver the key reforms tenants were looking for, the more optimistic might have felt things were heading in the right direction.
But progress has been slow and now matters appear to have been made worse by comments from the minister now responsible for the issue.
Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat MP for East Dunbartonshire, has been reported as saying the government has completed its work as far as its own commitments go.
But tenant campaigners, including fellow Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Save the Pub Group at Westminster, disagree.
Far from completing its work, Mulholland insists the government simply hasn’t delivered its commitments.
Specifically, the pubs advisory service has yet to be established and the code of practice has still to be reviewed (though SLTN understands PIRRS is up and running and PICAS is about to be launched.)
Almost a year down to the line, it’s not surprise to hear Mulholland call for an investigation into the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and its lack of progress.
At the very least it’s unacceptable, in my view, for a minister to say a job is done when it’s clearly not.