Announcing her appointment, business secretary Greg Clark said her judicial experience, which includes complex and high-value cases, will be the perfect foundation for her role.
Dickie was called to the Bar in 1993 and practised in criminal law before working for nine years in London law centres (in housing and social welfare law). She is a part-time judge of the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) and a Road User Charging adjudicator. She is also an examiner of the court and an accredited and experienced mediator in civil disputes.
Her appointment has been welcomed by Paul Newby and will be welcomed by the industry and analysts, who have been calling for Newby to be given more support. The code was introduced in May 2016 but, in the first year, Newby made just 48 arbitration awards from 156 accepted cases.
Calls for more adjudicators
There have been calls for further appointments to adjudicate, which would leave Newby free to concentrate on enforcing regulation. However, with just one deputy adjudicator in post, it is likely Newby will continue to adjudicate as well.
Dickie said: “I look forward to using my legal background to offer a just and proportionate resolution to disputes, and to ensuring compliance with the code to support a fair, thriving pubs industry and the local communities they serve. I encourage all interested parties to work with the pubs code adjudicator.”
She will take up her role on 1 November, working four days a week from Birmingham and the appointment is for an initial two years.
The code was set up to make the whole tenant and pub company agreement more transparent, and to give tied tenants the right, in certain circumstances, to move to a free-of-tie tenancy labelled the market-rent-only (MRO) option, available to 12,000 tenants in 500 English and Welsh pubs owned by a total of six pub groups.
'Strong legal background'
Chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, Brigid Simmonds, welcomed the extra support to the PCA’s office that the DPCA will bring, especially given Dickie’s strong legal background.
"While I believe that the renegotiation of tied deals is delivering what the legislation set out to achieve, there is nonetheless a real need to make progress on pending cases for arbitration, and making decisions that give clarity around what constitutes an MRO agreement and how such agreements should be structured. This appointment should help this process,” she said.
Alex Frear, chairman of the Guild of Master Victuallers, welcomed the appointment and said: “It is hoped that the arrival of Fiona Dickie will bring fresh eyes and an open mind to address the many issues that have been highlighted to Mr Newby and the secretary of state since the implementation of the code.
"It is no secret that tenants are still suffering at the hands of pubco manipulation, in either circumventing the code directly or using lengthy delay tactics to hold MRO firmly out of reach for the vast majority of tenants.
“Fiona Dickie certainly appears to bring the tools to the table to be the catalyst for much needed positive change and the guild look forward to engaging to ensure a clear understanding of the issues and a positive outcome.”
'Hold pubcos to account'
Campaigning body The British Pub Confederation has urged the newly appoint DPCA to “to step in to stop the thwarting and undermining of the pubs code”.
The confederation has been a vocal critic of pubs code adjudicator Paul Newby since his appointment, claiming his former role at Fleurets where he worked with pubcos represents a conflict of interests.
Greg Mulholland, chair of the British Pub Confederation, said: “The British Pub Confederation always believed that as well as having a non-conflicted adjudicator, the role should be held by someone from outside the pub sector with a legal background.
"As someone who is legally trained she will not be able to ignore what is going on nor pretend that the role of the pubs code adjudicator is merely to privately arbitrate, when the law and code are clear that the adjudicator is there to adjudicate, something that the conflicted Mr Newby continues to fail to do.
"Unlike Mr Newby, who continues to have a clear conflict of interest with his financial interests in Fleurets, we hope that Ms Dickie will show that the pubcos cannot get away with flouting and thwarting the pubs code and that she will seek to uphold the law, even if he continues not to do so.”
In response to news of the appointment, head of the Pubs Advisory Service Chris Wright added: "We will review every adjudicator on a case by case basis."
Work rate improvement
Chris Lindesay, steering group member of the British Pub Confederation and coordinator of the Punch Tenant Network, commented: “Punch Tenants, who are already wrestling with the implications of the recent takeover of Punch by a private equity fund backed by Heineken UK, cautiously welcome the appointment of Fiona Dickie as DPCA.”
He said Dickie did not have the “baggage” that he claimed Newby has brought to the PCA office.
“We are hopeful that the appointment of Ms Dickie will result in a dramatic improvement in the work rate and quality of the guidance coming from the office of the pubs code adjudicator; so that tied tenants might begin to be able to access their rights that Parliament has confirmed must mean they are ‘no worse off than free of tie’.”