With several pubs closing across Sussex last year and up to 29 pubs closing on a weekly basis nationwide, campaigners insist the point of no return has been reached.
Could a controversial shake-up breathe new life into the pub industry and halt the decline?
Monday saw consultation close on a new code of conduct which campaigners say could breathe new life into the ailing pub sector.
They hope it will establish what is called the ‘market rent only’ option, which would allow tenants of the largest pub companies the right to ask for an independent assessment of their rent without the existing tie obligations, then be able to pay this to the pub-owning company.
Alternatively they could opt for a fair tied agreement with a lower rent being offered in exchange for higher beer prices. The code is set to start in May.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the large pub companies say this move could end up doing more harm than good.
“The tied model gives you a very low cost entry to running your own business,” insists Brigid Simmonds, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, which represents them. “If you want to run a major franchise you would probably need £250,000 before you can even start. If you want to run a pub it’s £20,000.”
She also argues that it provides a vital route to the market for brewers, while warning that the £200m investment put into premises by pub companies could dry up.
For Liberal Deomcrat MP Greg Mulholland, however, the point of no return has been reached. He is adamant that landlords must be given the chance to opt out of the tied system if the industry is to overcome its challenges.
“If landlords are able to take a fairer share of the profit they make then we will see a more stable and sustainable pub sector.”
“The pub companies say this system has been in place for 400 years but that’s nonsense. It dates from the 1990s when property firms started buying up pubs in a get-rich-quick scheme. Charging more than the market price for beer is extraordinary, and they’ve got away with it for too long.”
Mr Mulholland says the draft code caused “uproar” when it was published last year as it was an attempt to “water down” the market rent only option.
As such, he says he and his fellow campaigners will be putting pressure on the Government over the next few months to ensure they honour the historic vote in November 2014 which saw MPs agree to break the tie.
“We will accept nothing less than the Government abiding by the commitment it has given and the will of both houses of parliament.”
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