By Marcus Leach
The Forum of Private Business is urging the Government to tear up a proposal for pub company self-regulation following new evidence suggesting ministers colluded with ‘pubcos’ while failing to consult groups representing landlords.
The not-for-profit Forum is responding to the evidence, revealed after a freedom of information request was submitted by the Parliamentary Save the Pub Group, ahead of tomorrow’s motion on real measures to protect landlords from mistreatment by large pub companies. These were earlier rejected by the Government despite strong recommendations from the Business Innovation and Skills Committee.
The Forum is again backing the committee’s call for a statutory code of practice and adjudicator to prevent pub companies exploiting landlords, including providing alternatives to ‘tied contracts’ which force publicans to pay steep rents and buy tied products at hugely inflated prices.
The motion, tabled by the BIS Committee’s chairman Adrian Bailey MP, says the Government’s proposal for legally binding but self-policed industry codes of practice ‘falls short’ of an undertaking of meaningful reform given to the committee in July 2011, insisting it will not resolve the contractual problems between pub companies and their lessees.
On Tuesday, 22 November 2011, the Forum took part in a House of Commons rally arranged by Save the Pub Group in which ministers were urged to heed recommendations made by the BIS Committee, which has investigated the pub industry on four occasions and reported serious concerns with pub companies.
However, despite ministers having earlier agreed a plan to legislate and rebalance the pub industry, the Government’s subsequent November 2011 report failed to tackle the beer tie issue at all.
It argued that there is ‘little evidence to indicate that tied pubs are more likely to close' - despite research from CAMRA showing that, while the number of tied pubs has fallen by 3,216 since December 2008, 425 new free-of-tie pubs have actually opened.
The report prompted Greg Mulholland, Chairman of the Save the Pub Group, to say that tenants would view it as another "pubco stitch-up."
“British pubs are closing every day as a result of them being squeezed by the very companies that own them,” said the Forum’s Senior Policy Adviser Phil McCabe, who addressed the Save the Pub Group rally. “These pub companies make it virtually impossible for landlords to run their businesses and yet are apparently enjoying a massively disproportionate influence over the Government’s proposed industry reforms, at the expense of bodies genuinely representing licensees.
“Enough is enough. The failed pubco model is decimating the pub industry and the Government should tear up the notion that self-policing these industry codes of practice will save it. We need a statutory code of conduct and an adjudicator without delay in order to give our pubs, and the hard working landlords that run them, a fighting chance.
“All Members of Parliament who care about the pubs in their constituencies should back tomorrow’s motion to remove these restrictions and help struggling landlords.”
The BIS committee has stated that pub companies have been given every opportunity to implement the necessary changes but have consistently failed to do so.
Criticisms have come from individuals and groups, many of which have campaigned for meaningful pub industry reforms since 2004 and yet argue they have not been consulted over the reforms.
“The Government has failed to act at a time the industry is in spiralling decline,” said Steve Corbett of the pressure group Fair Pint. “It has decided to side with the people who should be in the dock — the pub companies - and there has been nothing at all to help struggling tenants.”
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