So, at long last, after 10 years of campaigning by various organisations, the Government has finally given details of its proposals to introduce a statutory code of practice for tied pubs.
It is a code that will govern the relationship between the large pubcos – those with over 500 pubs – and their tenants.
Mind you, the glad tidings did initially raise a titter, after the code of practice, included in the Queen’s Speech, was first announced by Nick Clegg and Vince Cable – in a free-of-tie establishment.
However, will this code of practice go far enough, to help our beleaguered tied publicans? Will it give them the fair deal they deserve? And will it give pubs the protection they need from bullying, reckless, unscrupulous and profiteering pub companies?
For me personally, the news in the Queen’s Speech was generally welcome, as it will end all the present uncertainty within the industry. At least it will give some hope to most tied tenants. Tenants who have to work long hours for little reward, due to the sky-high rent and beer prices they have to pay. I’m also pleased the reforms are based on the principle of a fair deal for tied tenants – and they should be no worse off than a free-of-tie tenant.
However, it’s vital the Government goes further than what has been proposed. The mandatory free-of-tie option is vital. It would do much to harmonise the relationship between the pubco and their tenant – and the incentive to treat their employees fairly.
This option could lead to beer prices becoming 50-60p cheaper, and encourage more people into pubs – and at the same time stem the flow of pub closures, currently standing at 26 a week.
I will give you an example of the current disparity in ale prices, between a tied pub and free-of-tie boozer.
I reviewed a tied pub very recently, that was owned by Enterprise Inns. Cask ale ranged from £3.10 - £3.25. Ten yards directly across the road is a free-of-tie drinking den, flogging six cask ales at £2.60. Hence my theory that the free-of-tie option could save you 50-60p. Well, maybe up to 65p, in this particular example.
Some opponents of the mandatory free-of-tie option said there was no evidence beer would be cheaper – and there would be more choice on offer. Well, make up your own minds after digesting the previous paragraph.
Let’s face it, tied boozers are currently paying extortionate rents and sky-high prices for their beer – it’s a fact. I visit many pubs and the disparity in price for ale can be alarming between tied and free-of-tie. It can be even worse if you are a lager drinker. Present practices are pricing pubs out of the market, and as a result, they are closing in droves.
Surely, the current situation cannot be justified. Hopefully, the Government will see these proposals through. No watering-down of the points raised. No allowing the bully-boy Pubcos to influence any legislative decision making. Steps are now being made in the right direction for tied tenants. Let’s hope there is no diversion, or indeed a stagger, along the path to a fairer deal for our hard-working tied publicans.