Scottish Labour in call to give drinkers more choice in pubs

Plans to give Scots drinkers more choice in pubs, and free landlords from the shackles of big firms, will be stepped up by Labour leader Kezia Dugdale today.

Kezia Dugdale said offering pub tenants the chance to opt out. Picture: Scott Louden

The party wants to relax the rules which ties many bars to larger companies – so-called “pubcos” – in a move which it is claimed could save many establishments from closure.

It is estimated 1,000 pubs in Scotland could benefit from the new laws being proposed by Labour MSP Neil Bibby. He will join Ms Dugdale at a pub in the capital today, a fortnight before the end of his formal consultation on the plans.

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Ms Dugdale said: “Times are tough for the Scottish pub industry at the moment, with many local community pubs under threat of closure.

“This proposal to allow Scottish pub tenants to opt out of their tied arrangements if they want to could help give the industry a real boost. It would give publicans the flexibility they need to react to changes affecting their business in a crowded and competitive market place.”

Under current arrangements, tenants often have a contractual obligation to buy some or all products from the pubco, which can greatly restrict the choice of beer, cider, wine and spirits available to them – and can be at a higher cost than buying ­supplies elsewhere. The costs of the tie can eventually lead to pubs closing down.

Mr Bibby added: “This proposal is about fairness, choice and jobs. Fairness for Scotland’s publicans, greater choice for pub customers, and an opportunity to protect and create jobs in Scotland’s pub and brewing industry.

“Access to a fair and reasonable market rent for premises, without strings attached, should be a right for Scottish publicans. They will then be free to source and purchase products as they see fit, on the same basis as other pubs in Scotland, and pubs in England and Wales.”

The move already has the support of the Scottish Licensed Trade Association, with its chief executive Paul Waterson having previously said it is an issue of “common sense”.

It would also give Scottish landlords the same rights and protections as their colleagues south of the Border. A Pubs Code came into force in England and Wales in May 2016 that offers a way out for tied tenants trapped in arrangements with big brewers.

Although a new voluntary code was recently introduced in Scotland, it is not adhered to by all pub companies and does not go as far as the legally binding code in England and Wales.