PCA: ‘Big six’ must be proactive over code breaches

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Regulatory issues: pubs code adjudicator Fiona Dickie says some pubcos have more work to do than others
Regulatory issues: pubs code adjudicator Fiona Dickie says some pubcos have more work to do than others

Related tags Pubs code Pubs code adjudicator Legislation Stonegate Marston's pub company Punch pubs Admiral taverns Greene king Star pubs & bars

Pubs code adjudicator Fiona Dickie has praised pub companies for taking the principles of the pubs code to heart but also warned them they must be proactive when the code is breached.

Dickie told The Morning Advertiser​ what her principle objectives are in office as the renewed pubs code adjudicator – a position that was confirmed for a further three years in February – and that the field work for the regulator’s 2024 Annual Tied Tenant Survey was in place too.

Dickie said she was delighted to be reappointed to the role and to have the opportunity to continue contributing to the impact of the code and promote the transparency that is central to it and the responsible compliance behaviours that are expected from the pub companies.

Dickie said: “The Government has reviewed the effectiveness of the pubs code and the PCA in its report, published in October last year, and found, after looking at all the available evidence that, overall, the PCA has been effective in enforcing compliance with the pubs code.

“We have come a long way but there is much more to do in my next term of office.

“I want to amplify the achievements of those compliant pub companies where they have taken the core principles of the pubs code to heart while accelerating the progress of other pub companies towards compliance.

“My other key aim is for pub companies to show responsible behaviours by reporting when they’ve breached the code and being proactive about putting things right for tenants when those compliance failures affect them.”

On the 2024 Annual Tied Tenant Survey, Dickie said: “We’ve just completed the field work for the survey that will enable me to compare the attitudes of tied tenants of each of the ‘big six’ regulated pub companies (Admiral Taverns, Greene King, Marston’s, Punch, Star Pubs & Bars and Stonegate) and being able to make and comment on those comparisons.”

Further to go than others

She explained the survey is a very important tool for the regulator and provides valuable information for tied tenants.

“We take those results very seriously and we use them to help us decide on our priorities as we move forward,” she added.

As for the biggest challenges tied tenants are currently experiencing, Dickie said the regulator is seeing a two-tiered regulated industry with some pub companies demonstrating a strong compliance culture while others have more to do.

“Stonegate’s Tied Tenant Survey results last year show it has further to go than others in improving tied tenant satisfaction in the business relationship,” she said.

“It’s the tied tenants who are facing the challenges, which are relentless, such as the cost of living. The pubs code doesn’t remove those challenges but what it aims to do is ensure an effective tied tenant relationship that is working well for the tenant who can then focus on meeting those challenges effectively.”

She added the pubs code is about removing friction between tied tenants and their pub companies that allow them to make decisions that are right for their businesses.

The office of the pubs code adjudicator was introduced close to a decade ago and Dickie said she is “very proud” of the regulator’s success in “hugely reducing disputes over pubs code compliance”.

“The pubs code was introduced to give tenants additional power in the business relationship [with their pubcos],” she explained.

Time-consuming and costly

“However, when the legislation was introduced, the strife it was intended to calm had a new arena within pubs code arbitration where disputes over compliance with the new regulations were time-consuming and costly for tenants.

“I took up office as deputy PCA in December 2017 when there were a large number of seemingly intractable disputes about pubs code compliance that were in arbitration. At their height, there were 180 open arbitration disputes; at the end of last quarter, there were just six.

“That shows fantastic progress for tenants in being able to assert their rights with the support of an effective dispute resolution process.”

Dickie said a key challenge for the office is communicating better with tied tenants. She said the PCA is independent of Government and of the pub companies, and finding effective ways to communicate with tenants is sometimes difficult because they are often busy in their pubs and only seek information about the code when something goes wrong.

She added the PCA also wants tenants to be aware of their rights so they can advocate for themselves in the relationship with their pubco and to take the right professional advice from the start.

Dickie explained the PCA ensures pub companies remain responsible for supporting their tied tenants and added the onboarding of new tenants is vital too.

She said the pubs code “frontloads the responsibilities on to the pub companies to provide full information to negotiating tenants to make sure they can get off to a good start in their business so that new tenant onboarding is absolutely crucial.”

She explained the experience between both parties is measured via the Tied Tenant Survey allowing the PCA to compare the views of tenants of the six pub companies.

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