Following an interview with The Morning Advertiser – in which the MP for Rochester and Strood –and minister responsible for overseeing the enforcement of the pubs code – stated that she wanted to see “meaningful negotiation” become the norm in pubs code cases, the British Pub Confederation wrote to Kelly Tolhurst MP to express deep concern on behalf of pub tenants struggling to access their statutory rights.
The letter sent on 12 March, seen by The Morning Advertiser, bemoans what it perceives to be a “worrying lack of understanding about the fundamental nature and purpose of the pubs code legislation” from the minister.
“It is troubling to hear the minister responsible for overseeing the pubs code giving the impression that the code is about negotiation,” Greg Mulholland, chair of the British Pub Confederation, explained.
“It isn’t, it is a statutory code of practice that is delivers rights for tenants, including the right to obtain a Market-Rent-Only (MRO) option lease, rights that pubcos have been and still are trying to thwart.
“What is needed is not more negotiation, delaying tenants taking a MRO lease, it is adjudication and an adjudicator who will fulfil his statutory duty and uphold the pubs code, something Paul Newby (pubs code adjudicator) is still failing to do.
“The British Pub Confederation has written to the minister and, on behalf of thousands of tied tenants, we wish to meet with her and ensure she understands this is a statutory code with statutory rights, rights that the adjudicator should be preventing pubcos from thwarting.
“We also want to talk to her about the demonstrable failure of the pubs code and adjudicator, with tenants unable to get the MRO option, with many giving up after months of trying, often exactly because the pubco if forcing them to negotiate or arbitrate, as deliberate ways to block their progress.
“This must be stopped and with the adjudicator not acting, BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) must take responsibility and step in.”
Get a grip
Managing director of the Forum of Private Business and British Pub Steering Group member Ian Cass added: “The new minister seems to suggest she has no powers to intervene and that all issues should be taken up with the PCA, which ignores the clear duty of the Government to ensure the pubs code is working and the PCA is doing what parliament intended it to do.
“This is, as laid down in law, to make sure tenants were no worse off than free-of-tie tenants and that unfair business practices are removed. Neither of those key principles are being delivered and Kelly Tolhurst seems not to understand that this does mean that the Government must get involved.
“The previous responsible minister, Anna Soubry, put the processes in place to get involved in the pubs code if it proved to be failing and her successor Richard Harrington stated that the ‘Government remains fully committed to ensuring that the tied pub tenants can operate in a fair environment, by delivering the principles of the pubs code’.
“So it’s time for Kelly Tolhurst, the secretary of state, to do what was promised and actually get a grip because, so far, tied tenants are being denied their rights and badly let down.
“We look forward to meeting with her, on behalf of thousands of tied tenants, to get that message across.”
Unacceptable to tenants and Government
"The batting of this ball from Government to adjudicator and back again is ridiculous,” Inez Ward, founder of Justice for Licensees, British Pub Week and vice-chair of the British Pub Confederation added.
“These are people's lives that are being played with here. It is not a game of tennis for the enjoyment of the players, people are still losing their homes, their business, their health, nothing has changed.
“We were asked to give the adjudicator time, he has had the time and then some and has failed miserably in ensuring that the word and the spirit of the law are adhered to, this is not acceptable to tied tenants and should not be acceptable to Government either.
“The pubcos are thwarting attempts by tenants to gain a proper and just MRO option, the Government was warned time and again that this would be the scenario.
“The adjudicator has failed to investigate or deal with this gaming in a proper and timely manner, as Government was warned would be the case. What is the point of the pubs code and adjudicator if neither are addressing the huge concerns raised over a decade of campaigning by tenants and their representatives?
“Nothing has changed, tenants still feel bullied, tenants still feel ripped off, scammed or conned, tenants are still losing their homes and business and tenants’ health is still failing due to the weight of the burden they carry!
“It is time that this Government ensured that the law is upheld, their weak excuses for not doing so pale into insignificance when faced with the destruction of people's lives.”
The British Pub Confederation, which comprises 13 member organisations, has requested a meeting with the minister, who replaced Richard Harrington MP as the minister responsible for overseeing the enforcement of the pubs code, to discuss its concerns.