Proposed Bill divides trade

War of words over the need for a Scottish pubs code heats up

Labour MSP Neil Bibby lodged his proposal for a Tied Pubs Bill on January 9.
Labour MSP Neil Bibby lodged his proposal for a Tied Pubs Bill on January 9.

PROPOSALS for a statutory pubs code for Scotland have met with a mixed response from operators and trade groups.

Labour MSP Neil Bibby lodged his final proposal for a Tied Pubs Bill on January 9. It would regulate the relationship between pub companies and their lessees and create a role of ‘pubs adjudicator’ to enforce the code and mediate disputes.

The planned Member’s Bill comes after legislation was backed by 93% of respondents to a consultation last year. It now has a month to gain support from 18 other MSPs from at least half of the parties represented in the Parliamentary Bureau. If it secures this support Bibby is free to introduce the Bill.

The introduction of a pubs code has been supported by groups that include the Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA), CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) and the Federation of Small Businesses.

In a statement the SLTA said: “The status quo is not an option and our message remains the same – ‘there is an urgent need to have parity with the rest of the UK’. It is totally unacceptable for Scotland’s tenant licensees to be left in the very vulnerable position they find themselves in.”

And CAMRA’s Scotland director, Sarah Bellis, said many Scottish pubs “are struggling because pub companies take more than is fair or sustainable from tied licensees’ profits”.

“Licensees are further hit by paying above market value for rents and consequently struggling to make a living, contributing to pub closures across Scotland,” said Bellis.

However, the legislation would be “damaging” to the industry in Scotland, according to the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA).

Brian Davidson, president of the SBPA, said the code would “do the opposite of what it sets out to achieve, and seeks to find a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist”.

He was backed by Scott Arnot of multiple operator Kained Holdings, which operates nine venues in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Arnot said that, when the group opened its first outlet (a leased unit) in 2007, “we were given an opportunity to try something new and we know that the investment we received could not have been replicated from other sources”.

“We do realise that the model is not perfect,” he said.

“However, this Bill, while perhaps well-intended, is a threat to innovation and investment.”

Updated Wednesday 17 January.