However, with the two sides historically finding very little to agree on and emotions running high following the publication of the first consultation, is the dream of a united industry more of a fantasy?
Speaking at the Tenant Pub Company Summit, Punch Taverns representative Andy Slee said he’s feared that the pubs code adjudicator will need to be a combination of American diplomat Henry Kissinger, Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa, and argued the successful candidate will earn every penny of their £120,000 salary by finally getting the two sides to work together.
“We’ve spent a generation living with the unintended consequences of the Beer Orders. We can’t afford for that to happen again. I use the example of Martin Mcguiness and Ian Paisley. If those two can get along, it’s a poor reflection on the leadership of this sector and the tenanted campaign that we can’t do the same. At the end of the day, all we want is great pubs in well run pubs that are the heart of community.”
Admiral Taverns CEO Kevin Georgel also reprimanded the trade for the chasm between pub companies and campaigners. Highlighting the potential impact of the market rent only (MRO) option on investment in the sector, the Admiral boss said he hoped this was one area of the debate that could be ‘responsible, balanced and conciliatory.’
He added: “The sad reality is we still have two sides of the debate, neither of whom are impartial, who have no trust in one another, who are suspicious of each other’s intentions, fighting a war of words that creates a vacuum from reality and silences the majority.
“How sad that is when there is almost certainly more that unites us than divides us, we seem to be so entrenched and unable to find some common ground.”
There was little cross industry unity on display at the Tenanted Pub Company Summit’s panel session debate between Liberal Democrat MP and Save the Pub chair Greg Mulholland and British Beer and Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds.
Mulholland was accused of failing to understand changes made by pub companies after he attacked the BBPA chief executive of being a ‘stuck record’ and of personally failing to lead the industry. Simmonds countered that she knew of many MPs who regretted their decision to vote for the MRO.
Investment and the issue of parallel rent assessments-labelled as bureaucratic by opponents and a vital tool to ensure tenants are no worse off by proponents- continue to be ongoing sticking points.
But there are some bright spots in the gloom. Georgel said that he was optimistic that the industry ‘was closer then we might think’ to reconciling on the secondary legislation, and the Pubs Advisory Service’s Chris Wright told the PMA he planned to informally meet both Georgel and Slee to exchange views and engage in constructive debate. Both sides are passionate about the Great British pub, and the trade has a good track record of succeeding when it does pull together, as demonstrated by the scrapping of the beer duty escalator and three successive cuts to beer duty.
Georgel argued that the debate so far on the pubs legislation has been missing an ‘impartial, reasoned and balanced’ voice. Although the pubs code adjudicator will be appointed too late to referee this particular fight, there is hope that they will be able to provide a voice of impartiality in any future battles the trade faces.
As Andy Slee pointed out-if political odd couple and former enemies Ian Paisley and Martin Mcguiness can work together, there is hope yet for a united front for the pub industry.