Secretary of state has challenged me to ‘change how the PCA does business’

By Fiona Dickie - pubs code adjudicator

- Last updated on GMT

Code review: 'the review should also be the launch pad for new ways of working for the PCA'
Code review: 'the review should also be the launch pad for new ways of working for the PCA'

Related tags Pca Pubs code Legislation Pubs code adjudicator Tenanted + leased Pubco + head office

The Government has this month published the first statutory review of the pubs code and the pubs code adjudicator (PCA).

The review identified some areas for possible amendments which will go out for consultation. 

These include improvements to the restrictive market rent only (MRO) timetable and processes, the creation of bespoke dispute resolution rules, and exploration of the scope for a more accessible route of appeal than the High Court. 

However, the review should also be the launch pad for new ways of working for the PCA. 

The Secretary of State has given me guidance about how I can develop the PCA’s reach and impact. He has thrown down the gauntlet and challenged me to change how the PCA does business, and it is a challenge I’m ready to accept.

Shining a light on PCA successes to build tenant confidence

A key ask is to increase awareness of how the PCA responds to code breaches and to publicise where we have resolved issues without resorting to an investigation. 

My team is constantly making progress in getting changes to pub company policies and practices so they can be consistent with the pubs code. 

However, I do agree we should be better at talking about our successes. 

This isn’t publicity for publicity’s sake; it’s important to show the regulator is having an impact so that tenants have confidence in me and can see that I am getting the job done and changing pub company behaviours. 

But there is a challenge here. Sometimes the PCA achievements relate to technical legal arguments about what the law means – and these aren’t exactly page-turners. For example, issues relating to rent reviews and annual index-linked rent increases or what is reasonable in terms of the length of a MRO lease.  

I recognise we will need to be more innovative in how we tell these stories in a way that appeals to tenants and lets them know what we are working on - even if we are only part way to a solution and there is more to do. 

It is no bad thing for tenants to know that I am on the case in these matters, and it could encourage any other tenants facing such issues to come forward, as they should do. 

I’m going to be more front facing about the issues the PCA is thinking about, and if you sign up on my website there’ll be more news soon.

Measuring success

The pubs code was introduced to change the culture in the tied pub trade, and a question I’ve been asked to consider is how to know, and then show, when that is being achieved. It can’t be done merely by pointing to pub numbers. 

According to the Government, the evidence doesn’t suggest that the long-term trend of pub closures has been driven by the tied model or, in more recent times, the code – but rather that the main causes are changes in demand because of short-term economic factors and longer-term changes in consumer habits. 

But I do intend the PCA to be able to show from measurable results, which include tenant attitudes to their tied relationship, that the Code is bringing them benefits. 

An increase in the number of tenants using the MRO process to compare their options could show that it is a real choice and brings them negotiating strength at rent review. 

Setting measurable service standards in arbitrations will also make it easier for users to know what to expect, and when we are getting things right. 

I’ll soon be publishing the results of our user research which will develop my approach to communications with industry. 

I’m realistic that it isn’t possible to please everyone all of the time, but my priority is reaching the tied tenants in their pubs so they know and can have confidence in their rights.

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