Colin Valentine: Scottish Government not doing enough to protect our pubs

General image of people drinking in pubs in Edinburgh.  Woman pouring pints of lager
General image of people drinking in pubs in Edinburgh. Woman pouring pints of lager
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For far too long, large pub companies have been taking more than is fair or sustainable from pub profits by forcing licensees to buy their beer from them rather than on the open market. Furthermore, there is no set code of practice in place or independent arbitrator available if a licensee has an issue with that pub company. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) thinks that this is not only unfair, but also has a damaging impact on consumers who are then faced with higher prices at the bar and less choice at the handpump.

Following sweeping legislative changes in England and Wales to reform the relationship between tied pub tenants and large pub owning companies (pubcos), CAMRA has been lobbying for publicans in Scotland to have the same opportunity.

When the legislation was introduced in Westminster, we encouraged the Scottish Government to implement a legislative consent motion, which would have allowed it to be incorporated into Scottish law, but with no joy. We lobbied Scottish Ministers to introduce their own legislation with, so far, the same result.

However, Neil Bibby MSP has now taken up the cudgels and launched a Consultation survey which calls on the Scottish Government to introduce a Pubs Code and Adjudicator to govern the relationship between tied pub tenants and the pubcos, which runs until the end of this month.

The survey will also consider whether a Market Rent Only (MRO) option should be introduced, which would allow licensees to buy their beer on the open market rather than having to buy directly from the pubco at the prices they set, often paying almost double the price that “free of tie” publicans pay. This follows in the footsteps of legislation introduced in England and Wales last year and would safeguard the future of many tied Scottish pubs for generations to come. However, as things stand, tied pub tenants in Scotland are being let down by the Scottish Government on this issue.

Many pubs are the beating heart of their community and it’s time the Scottish Government recognised the hard work that licensees put into their communities and gave them the same protection as those in England and Wales. Without this new law, licensees in Scotland will continue to struggle to make a living and consumers will continue to be hit in the pocket. Under the current business model, licensees cannot afford to invest in their business. As a result, the cost of a pint continues to rise and net pub closures run at a rate of one a week across the country.

A CAMRA survey of 200 Scottish tied tenants in 2014 found 74 per cent felt they were worse off as a result of being unable to buy beer on the open market from a supplier of their choice. CAMRA would like to encourage anyone who values their local pub to take part in the consultation, which has the potential to have a huge impact on the future of the industry in this country.

Let’s not forget that pubs are a force for good and, when it comes to tackling alcohol-related problems, they are part of the solution, with cheap supermarket hooch drunk at home or on park benches almost the entire problem.

We hope that all beer lovers and pub goers will use this opportunity to show the Scottish Government that licensees in Scotland should not be left behind and that they deserve the same level of support as those in England and Wales. After all, why should a publican in Burnmouth or Gretna who has the same landlord as a publican a couple of miles down the road in Berwick or Carlisle work to a different set of rules and not have the same advantages as them?

The Consultation, Proposed Tied Pubs (Code and Adjudicator) (Scotland) Bill closes at the end of this month. The Scottish Parliament Bills committee then has 12 weeks to determine whether or not the Bill should progress any further. I would urge all Scotsman readers who love pubs to get involved in the consultation process by visiting www.protectourpubs.scot and giving your thoughts.

Colin Valentine, National Chairman, Campaign for Real Ale