THE BLOG

Clegg and Cable's Pub Visit - Yet Another Example of Labour Setting the Political Agenda

04/06/2014 14:43 BST | Updated 03/08/2014 10:59 BST

On Tuesday morning, in a central London pub, Vince Cable and Nick Clegg got together to announce a new statutory regulatory code to manage the relationship between the large branded pub chains that own the majority of pubs in the UK (known as PubCos) and their licencees.

This is yet another example of Labour setting the political agenda. We have been arguing for a statutory code for more than three years and have brought the issue to a parliamentary vote three times. On each occasion both governing parties voted down our proposal to introduce just such a code.

Every week 26 pubs close. That means that during this avoidable delay by the government, hundreds of pubs which serve their community, employ local people and contribute to their local economy have shut their doors, as PubCos restrictive practices have squeezed tied landlords and prevented smaller breweries from accessing huge swathes of the trade.

It is, of course, positive that the government has finally recognised that the pubs market is unfair and unbalanced and that action must be taken. Ensuring the relationship between the powerful pub companies and individual licencees is put on a statutory footing is an encouraging first step. Furthermore, all future governments will have the responsibility to monitor the code and the power to strengthen it where necessary.

However, ministers have rejected the crucial free-of-tie option which campaigners have been pushing for and which would ensure landlords get a better deal, even though the government itself concedes in its consultation response today that taking this step would be the quickest and easiest way of achieving this aim. It is also greatly disappointing that the government's plans do not include genuinely independent rent reviews.

And looking at the details of the proposals, we are concerned that the government's plans will fall short of its stated objective that no tenant should ever be worse off than if they were free of tie.

The government would have us believe that under the new proposals tenants will have more transparency due to their right to ask their pub company to show them how much their rent would be under a free-of-tie scheme.

Yet if all the information is held by the PubCos, all the calculations crunched by their accountants and all the final estimates derived from them it hardly seems a step forward into a brave new world of transparency.

When the Bill to establish this statutory code comes before the House in the new session, Labour will work with the government to get it on the statute book quickly. But we will also look to hold ministers to the test they have set themselves - we owe struggling landlords across the country nothing less.

Toby Perkins MP is Shadow Minister for Small Business and Labour MP for Chesterfield