Statutory code consultation: A year in purgatory

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Government, Renting

Rob Willock: "The Government seems to be struggling to find a compromise to satisfy all respondents to the consultation"
Rob Willock: "The Government seems to be struggling to find a compromise to satisfy all respondents to the consultation"
This week marks one year since the launch of the Government’s consultation on the introduction of statutory code to regulate the relationship between pubcos and their tenants.

Ok, so it’s not the sort of anniversary that is going to capture the imagination of the wider British public, but 22 April 2013 was a significant date for the pub trade that raised the hopes of many tenants for a beginning to the end of decades of market abuses by their pubcos.

And for large tenanted pubcos it triggered fears of more ill-judged political interference in the trade, nearly 25 years after the disastrous Beer Orders.

Cue an intensification of lobbying activities by representatives of both sides of the industry for the following nine weeks until the consultation ended on 14 June.

Except it didn’t end then. Meetings have continued to take place and correspondence exchanged between interested parties and ministers and officials at the Department for Business Industry and Skills (BIS) and, it is claimed, the Treasury.

The Government has admitted being overwhelmed by the volume, intensity and polarity of the responses it received (suggesting it didn’t know what it was letting itself in for) – to the extent that it is now clearly struggling to find a solution that will both satisfy the anti-pubco campaigners and prevent years of legal challenges from the pubcos.

Tight-lipped

What else could explain the fact that a full 365 days after the launch of the consultation, there is still no word from BIS on its decision, despite frequent promises that a decision is ‘just round the corner’?

When the Government first outlined its proposals for regulation of the pub sector in January last year, it said it was keen to push them through “as soon as possible”. In December, then BIS minister Jo Swinson – just before she went on maternity leave – said an announcement would be made “very shortly”.

And just last week, her successor Jenny Willott said the government was still “considering the evidence carefully… [but] we intend to publish a government response to the consultation as soon as we can”.

I appreciate that PMA​ journalists, with their weekly calls to the BIS press office, must seem like irritating kids in the back seat of a car constantly asking: “Are we there yet?” But the difference is, most family road trips do eventually get somewhere.

Dragging on

This consultation and its response has been dragging on for far too long. ‘Fair Deal’ campaigners are desperate for some glimmer of government action to redress the risk and reward balance of pub tenancies and leases. And I sense that even the pubco bosses now want some sort of statutory code - both to end the uncertainty that is casting doubt on the viability of their tenanted estates, and to ensure that something meaningful happens before “the doomsday scenario” of a potential Labour or Lib/Lab government intervention (as one senior exec described it).

For the neutral pub-trade cheerleaders among us, we’re just hoping for a proportionate, targeted and workable solution that helps, rather than hinders, this industry to take best advantage of the fragile economic recovery.

Until or unless we get it, this Government dilly-dallying is becoming ever more unhelpful and unacceptable for all parties.

Related topics: Legislation

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