Mixed reaction to Scottish pubs code move

By Gary Lloyd

- Last updated on GMT

Must protect pubs: Scotland Small Business Minister Richard Lochhead (credit: Scottish Government)
Must protect pubs: Scotland Small Business Minister Richard Lochhead (credit: Scottish Government)

Related tags Camra Pubs code Pubs code adjudicator Legislation

CAMRA and the SLTA have welcomed a move by the Scottish Government that will see the introduction of a Scottish pubs code from 7 October, if ratified, while the SBPA has expressed disappointment.

The legislation will be put forward next week and will be akin to the current pubs code adjudicator’s office in England and Wales, which was brought into force in 2016 and is now led by Fiona Dickie​.

The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) Scotland director Stuart McMahon said: “The announcement that the Scottish Government recognise the importance of protecting pubs, the role they play in our communities and are now introducing a new, legal pubs code for Scotland, is fantastic news for licensees and pubgoers.

“As well as making sure tied tenants can earn a decent living, the new pubs code looks set to make it easier for tied tenants to sell more locally brewed beers, increasing choice at the bar for customers of tasty and distinctive products from small, local and independent breweries – particularly cask ale.

“These new protections in law are vital so tied tenants can make a long-term success of their pubs and shape the unique character of their businesses to become an integral part of their community.”

Long overdue

McMahon continued: “This requires a balanced relationship between licensees and pub companies, preventing any unfair practices like pub companies taking more than is fair or sustainable from tied licensees’ profits – or making it harder to sell a range of locally brewed products.

“This fair deal for tied pub tenants to protect pubs at the heart of communities can only be achieved by a robust and long-overdue statutory Scottish pubs code and the new pubs code adjudicator to enforce it.”

Holyrood said secondary legislation will be seen in parliament next week and, if approved, an adjudicator would be likely appointed next month.

It added a tied lease involves tenants buying some or all of their alcohol and other products and services from the pub-owning business and the legislation would deliver a fairer tied pubs sector, with risks and rewards being more equally shared between tenants and their landlords.

In 2023, it was estimated that there were just under 700 tied pubs in Scotland.

Disappointed with delays

The Scottish Licensed Trade Association (SLTA) has reacted positively too but is upset with delays to the pubs code introduction.

SLTA tied pubs policy adviser Gavin Stevenson, who is also an Inverness-based publican, said: “This act will regulate the tied pubs sector and provide some of the same protections that tenants in England have long enjoyed.
“However, we are extremely disappointed in the delays to implementation, first as a result of Scottish government insisting on an extended two-year period for the act to take effect then by the obstructive behaviour of some of the tied pub companies in pursuing protracted, but futile, legal challenges, and now by the Scottish Government announcing the act will not take full effect until much later this year.
“Scottish tied pub tenants cannot afford any further delay, and we urge the Scottish Government to accelerate implementation.”

Meanwhile, the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA) reacted with disapproval.

A spokesperson said: “It’s a major disappointment for the sector. The code is seeking to fix a problem that doesn’t exist and will come with added costs and complexity at an extremely challenging economic time for Scotland’s pubs.

“The prospect of a code has already stifled investment into the leased and tenanted sector north of the border and unfortunately this news is unlikely to reverse that.”

More freedom

The spokesperson continued: “In 2023, pubs in Scotland closed at twice the rate of England, the sector – which supports around 45,000 jobs – needs positive action from Government, not further unwanted, unevidenced and unwarranted interventions. 

“We will, of course, work proactively with the Scottish government and the wider sector to try to minimise the negative impacts and deliver a workable code.”

Small Business Minister Richard Lochhead said: “We need to do all we can to protect pubs, bars and licensed clubs in Scotland, which in 2022 supported 34,000 jobs throughout the country and play an important role in our communities.

“I am pleased that we are now free to introduce measures contained in the Tied Pubs (Scotland) Act and give tenants more freedom to choose the lease which best suits their needs and diversify the number of products they can sell.

“It’s in everyone’s interest that the sector prospers and I look forward to working with tenants, pub-owning businesses and the new Scottish Pubs Code Adjudicator to deliver these important changes.”

The Tied Pubs (Scotland) Bill 2021 was passed unanimously by parliament on 23 March 2021 and became an act on 5 May 2021.

While the introduction of secondary legislation follows the conclusion of unsuccessful legal challenges to the act – brought by some pub-owning businesses – which culminated in a decision by the Supreme Court last month not to hear their appeal.

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