OPINION

Looking back at 2023 and forward to 2024

By Fiona Dickie, pubs code adjudicator

- Last updated on GMT

Looking back: pubs code adjudicator Fiona Dickie reflects on the past 12 months
Looking back: pubs code adjudicator Fiona Dickie reflects on the past 12 months

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

As we approach the new year, it is an opportunity to review some of the key milestones for the pubs code and the pubs code adjudicator (PCA) during 2023.

Just published is the PCA’s latest annual report​, which provides an overview of our work and achievements in the last financial year. An important recent development has been the publication of the Government’s statutory review report.

Every three years the Secretary of State must review the effectiveness of the pubs code and the PCA. The report​ on the second such statutory review, covering the period from 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2022, evaluated the impact the code has had on the business relationship between regulated pub companies and their tied tenants in creating a more level playing field between them.

The Government gathered evidence from stakeholders and other sources, to explore how well the pubs code has functioned in practice, examining challenges faced by tied tenants in exercising their rights and whether these had genuinely empowered them. It also scrutinised the adequacy of the PCA’s powers, and its ability and effectiveness in enforcing the code.

The period under review did, of course, include the Covid 19 pandemic. The report acknowledges the valuable partnership support offered to tied tenants by their pub companies, and the important role of the PCA in working closely with them to ensure transparency in this discretionary support and safeguarding tenants’ code rights.

Code effectiveness

Overall, the review findings are positive, and the Government found changes in the law are not necessary at this stage. It found no robust evidence to support amending the pubs code, including changing the threshold for regulation of pub companies who own 500 tied pubs, or extending its scope to other pub-operating models.

The review found signs that tenants’ code rights had significantly improved the availability of accurate advice and information, paramount in enabling them to make the best decisions for themselves and helping them run their businesses.

The Government considers the PCA has been effective overall in enforcing the code over the review period, with particular success in reducing arbitration cases and successfully completing the first investigation under the code, which resulted in important reparation for affected tied tenants.

Indeed, the number of arbitration cases has fallen further since the end of the statutory review period. Other news I am pleased to report is the extension of the PCA’s contract with the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators​ to manage the pubs code arbitration service.

Furthermore, my office has now completed its monitoring​ of Star’s compliance with my recommendations made as a result of the investigation. I welcome the progress Star has made and its cooperation in complying with those recommendations. This is an important milestone in the work of the PCA to pursue fairness and transparency for tied tenants.

The statutory review report also remarked on recent improvements in sector engagement by the PCA. The efforts of my team to better understand the tied relationship by spending time visiting pubs with the BDM​, and meeting with stakeholders​ has been part of that. We look forward to continuing and expanding this engagement in 2024.

PCA 2024 Tied Tenant survey

The results of the annual PCA Tied Tenant surveys from 2023 and 2022 were valuable in the statutory review in understanding the satisfaction of tenants with their pub company relationship. The minister particularly welcomed the results which showed that most tied tenants are satisfied with their experiences and that the provisions of the code are generally useful.

These survey results are very important to the PCA in evaluating the progress it is making in enforcing the code, and in helping us to identify where we need to focus our energies to make more progress.

The fieldwork for the 2024 PCA survey will begin in January.  This independent survey is again being conducted by Ipsos, which will be contacting pubs on our behalf. The views of tied pub tenants are vital to our work, and I am very grateful to those who are willing to participate. It would be helpful if tenants, including operators of multiple sites, could brief any managers or staff who may answer the phone so that Ipsos can make arrangements to speak directly with the tenant.

This is such an important trading period for publicans, and a busy time for those in the industry. The PCA team sincerely wishes all of you a prosperous Christmas and new year.

This column is intended to aid industry understanding about the pubs code and its impact. Nothing in it should be understood to be a substitute for the pubs code legal framework.

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