Statutory Instrument 1989 No. 2390
The Supply of Beer (Tied Estate) Order 1989
Well they asked for it, sat up and begged for it practically. If reading the runes was an Olympic Sport, the PubCos and the BBPA wouldn't qualify for the finals, wouldn't even be allowed to run. They were on borrowed time and they couldn't really believe it, despite all the indications that in the highest circles, the Government was fed up of them. Fed up to the back teeth.
On Friday the Pubs Minister, John Healey announced he was implementing a package of proposals to help struggling pubs, given that closures are running at around 39 a week. These are mainly practical and sensible, treating the pub industry as something that has to have structured help to get it through the lean times. They include business support, a fund for communities to take over pubs, relaxation of live music restrictions and help with industry skills and training. All good stuff, but dull, though as predicted in many quarters, the Government wants the Industry Code of Practice following the Commons Select Committee Report on the PubCos which should ensure transparency and openness in setting contracts and leases, to be implemented in full within one year, or the Code will be put on a statutory basis backed by an industry enforcer if the industry fails to deliver. That's pretty severe for them.
It gets a bit more lively after that: "We will push the industry further to offer freedoms for tenants to offer consumer choice as part of their Code of Practice. The code of practice should:
* offer tenants a tie/non tie option to enable them to best reflect the needs of the community.
* offer a guest beer option for those tenants that opt for a beer tie.
The Minister then says "We will also make clear that Government will monitor progress for one year and intervene to introduce a non-tie option and legislate for a Beer Order to allow guest beers if these flexibilities are not introduced." And to really put the boot in, the Government will ask industry to ensure that the hated Brulines flow measurement equipment is calibrated by the National Weights and Measurement Laboratory, with the backstop that failure to do so, will result in Government prescribing the equipment to ensure fairness.
So, yes, you did read that right. A guest beer provision for tied tenants and in a further sting in the tail, the Minister says it will apply to all tenants, Family Brewers included. (CAMRA, which is influential within Government, is already signalling that companies with less than a 1% market share should be exempt.)
Of course with a change of Government possible, it may never happen, except it seems all parties are agreed that it should. No-one can feel sorry for the bloated PubCos. They have asked for it, as has their apologist the BBPA and while it may be a year away, we may be in for upheaval, the likes of which have not been seen since the last Beer Orders brought about the current mess and unlike the last Beer Orders, this seems to have a clear purpose, little wriggle room and the support of all political parties. Lessons have been learned and the law of unintended consequences taken into account.
In his blog, the Pub Curmudgeon also discusses this, though he takes a different view to me. I think he is wrong and the proposals are meaningful. While he may harp on about the smoking ban, "we", as my old boss used to say, "are where we are" and something must be done.
Tax increases and smoking bans notwithstanding, there is change afoot and hopefully it will be change for the better.