A pub industry body has threatened it could take legal action against the government's appointment of the Pubs Code Adjudicator (PCA).
The British Pubs Confederation (BPC), which represents 13 organisations across the sector, has said it would consider initiating a judicial review of the appointment of Paul Newby as PCA by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
The confederation has described Newby's appointment as "wrong and untenable" and argues he "is not and cannot be independent", which leaves him unable to fulfil his role as an adjudicator between pub landlords and tenants. In the past, Newby has worked for major pub companies including Marston's, Punch Taverns and Enterprise Inns, which has led many to question whether there is a conflict of interests.
Newby will take up the role of PCA on 2 May for an initial term of four years and will be responsible for enforcing the Pubs Code - new legislation that will govern the relationship between large pub-owning businesses and tied tenants in England and Wales. He will appear in front of a BIS select committee on 10 May.
The government has come under fire from Labour and Lib Dem MP Greg Mulholland, who is also chair of the BPC, for Newby's appointment.
Simon Clarke, co-owner of the Eagle Ale House in Battersea and the secretary of the British Pubs Confederation, said:
"One of the options is legal action, which would be in the form of a judicial review, but that would probably be a last resort. We'd like to see the adjudicator be someone the entire industry has confidence and trust in. For that, they can't be seen to have any conflicts of interest. Paul Newby has clear conflicts of interest that at the very least would raise suspicion of bias."
In early March, minister for small business Anna Soubry defended Newby's appointment in the House of Commons, saying he "is a chartered surveyor with a particular expertise in valuation and arbitration, key skills for the Pubs Code Adjudicator" and would benefit from his "30 years' experience of the pub trade".
A spokesperson for the UK's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said:
"Paul Newby was appointed in accordance with the code of practice for public appointments. He will be held to the high standards required of all public officials and will be expected to abide by these standards throughout his time as the Pubs Code Adjudicator. When he takes up his role on 2 May, he will have left his previous employment."
Fellow pub industry body the British Beer and Pub Association has also said it would not second the BPC's threats to legal action.
"We welcomed the appointment of Paul Newby as adjudicator and look forward to working with him. The legal challenge other organisations might take is not something we would support as we believe he has been appointed through the proper process. In addition, with the lack of a transition to the Pubs Code, it means it is vitally important that the adjudicator starts as soon as possible," Brigid Simmonds, chair of the British Beer and Pub Association, said.