The code has been tantalisingly out of reach for campaigners, but seemingly always within view for more than a decade now. And with just a matter of weeks before it comes into force, campaigners — and the wider trade — are being forced to wait once more.
It’s been almost three months since the Government’s consultation on the draft code closed and the clock is ticking; the legislation must be in place by 26 May.
The new pubs code adjudicator begins work in under a month. But — as of the Publican’s Morning Advertiser going to press earlier this week — there is no final code.
What we don’t want, having waited so long for the legislation to be brought in, is for it to be a rush job that pleases no one. No piece of legislation is ever perfect, but our sector, already overly burdened by what many see as unfair taxation and red tape, deserves a code that’s workable for all sides and the very best it can be. This is too important to get wrong.
So, in the nicest possible way, we’re calling on the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills to ‘get on with it’.
Once the code is finally published, there then needs to be a further short consultation on the final version as well as scrutiny and debate in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. There is an immovable deadline and that brings its own pressures.
The Government has not covered itself in glory throughout this entire process. From accusation by campaigners of acting in bad faith by removing or amending parts of the legislation, to U-turns over the original omission of parallel rent assessments, the latter part of this saga has been particularly fraught.
And that’s before we even consider the furore from some over the appointment of Paul Newby as the pubs code adjudicator and calls for him to resign before he’s even settled behind his new desk. A parliamentary debate on his appointment is set to take place next week when ministers will no doubt be grilled on his suitability for the role.
Putting that to one side, the devil, as always, will be in the detail of the code. Until the final version is in full sight then business planning and commercial decisions remain in limbo. That uncertainty is not helpful for either landlords or tenants.
And even when the code comes into force at the end of next month, there are some critical questions that remain unanswered. Then there’s the issue of what happens to tenants of pubcos that fall outside the scope of the code. What will self-regulation look like for them in this brave new world?
The campaigners’ final victory is within sight but it looks like skirmishes will continue for some considerable time to come.