Liberal Democrat MP Greg Mulholland has slammed Sajid Javid's appointment of Paul Newby as the new Pub Codes Adjudicator (PCA).
Newby, who will take up the role of PCA on 2 May for an initial term of four years, 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.
But Mulholland, who has campaigned against the tied licence model that he argues allowed large companies to take a disproportionate share of profits from local pub licensees, has criticised Newby's appointment.
Mulholland cites Newby's "clear record of having worked for the very pub companies criticised for widespread abuses in the sector".
"Mr Newby himself discloses that over the last 20 years he has been engaged by numerous managed and tenanted pub companies on rent review matters, and in the last five years in particular has acted for Enterprise Inns, Marstons and Punch Taverns," Mullholland said.
"With the all this in mind it is difficult to imagine how government could have possibly selected a more unacceptable Adjudicator to the tenants of the tied pub sector. Mr Newby will always be seen 'the pubcos' man'. This is like the Groceries Code Adjudicator being someone who acted for Tesco, it is extraordinary and to tenants groups, who were assured this would be an independent person, this is completely unacceptable," he added.
"The new Pubs Code comes into force on 1 June, but if the person whom government has appointed commands no confidence among tenants and tenants' groups, then there is no chance of fairness going forward. This appointment is seen by tenants groups as crass and either clueless or complicit.”
Under the code, the PCA will have the power to arbitrate individual business disputes about breaches of the Pubs Code, including disputes on rent and market rent-only options, and to provide redress.
He will also investigate suspected systemic breaches of the code more widely across the sector and will have the power to impose sanctions, including financial penalties.
Minister for small business Anna Soubry announced the appointment of the new PCA role during the third reading of the Enterprise Bill yesterday in the House of Commons.
"Paul Newby is a chartered surveyor with a particular expertise in valuation and arbitration, key skills for the Pubs Code Adjudicator," Anna Soubry said when questioned by Mulholland about Newby's appointment in the House of Commons today. "He has 30 years’ experience of the pub trade, working with pub company landlords and pub tenants. I think he will be an excellent Pubs Code Adjudicator."
Responding to questions about Newby's past employment by large pub firms, Soubry said: "Paul Newby was appointed absolutely in accordance with the usual ways of public appointments, and I take very grave exception to any allegation that either I or anybody else has acted improperly or with complicity. As I said, Mr Newby has represented not just pub trade companies but tenants.
"He is an experienced arbitrator, and the great skills he brings to this position do not just include his extensive experience of the pub trade industry; like many professionals, he has the absolute ability to be fair and to arbitrate fairly."
Local pub support programme
The government also announced plans to launch a £3.62m support programme to help people take control of their local pubs.
The jointly-funded programme between the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Power to Change Trust will help community groups take over the running of their pub from early stage advice to a wrap-around package of grants and loans.
"Local people facing the loss of their pub risk losing something special that binds the community together," Brigid Simmonds, British Beer and Pub Association chief executive, said.
"There is a huge amount of expertise needed to run a modern pub, from catering and hospitality, to licensing law and regulation. This funding will bring targeted help to those wanting to overcome the challenges and help keep their pub thriving."