Andrew Smith MP

On your side in Oxford East

Action to save community pubs

OXFORDSHIRE_G_2013.jpgPubs are important community facilities and are valued strongly by local people.

Sadly though they have been closing at an ever-increasing rate. The number of pub closures across the country has risen to 18 a week and over 200 pubs have been converted to convenience stores in the last two years alone.

I was pleased that my vote in the Commons last week formed part of the pressure which encouraged the government to bring in legislation to help protect struggling pubs. 

Many factors are in play in the closure of pubs, but the unfair and unbalanced relationship between licensees and their landlords, the large branded pub companies or "PubCos" who dominate the market, has undoubtedly played a part in this sad decline.

A broad coalition of groups in the pub trade -- including CAMRA, the Federation of Small Businesses, the Independent Pub Confederation, the UNITE and GMB Unions, the Forum of Private Business and Fair Pint have been calling for a statutory code to guide and regulate the relationship between the PubCos and their tenants and licencees.

On 12 January last year the House of Commons voted unanimously for a statutory code to be introduced. Despite this, the government decided to sit on its hands and ignore the will of Parliament and the broad coalition of pub industry groups. 

Labour therefore called the first Opposition Day Debate of this year -- one of the very few opportunities for parties not in government to decide what the House of Commons will debate and vote upon -- on the issue of PubCo regulation.

As recently as October 2012 the government did not accept there was a problem and the minister responsible refused a meeting request from the Publican's Morning Advertiser on the grounds that all the government's commitments to pubs had "now been achieved".

But remarkably within 24 hours of Labour's Opposition Day Debate the government caved in and announced that they would introducing a statutory code after all.

There is, though, still more to do. It remains unclear whether the government's reforms will offer struggling landlords a free of tie option so they can buy their beer on the open market rather than being contractually committed to only buy their beer from their PubCo at a set price. 

The government also seems set against a guest beer provision which would allow tied pubs to at least serve one guest beer at the bar, nor has it made clear how local pubs will be protected ahead of a new statutory code being prepared. There is the danger that large pub companies could cash in on their assets whilst the new code waits to become law.

I will continue to press the government on these issues, for the sake of the service, enjoyment and employment which our community pubs provide.

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