Beer industry campaigners have hit out at the government over delays to the formation of a new watchdog for big pub companies, whose lack of support is blamed as a major factor in the closure of 26 pubs a week on average in the UK.
The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) said it is disappointed that Consumer Minister Jo Swinson did not publish details on a statutory code and regulator for large pub companies alongside responses to a consultation on the issue. They claim the government had promised to outline steps it would take by the end of 2013.
Camra's evidence to the consultation suggests that 57% of pub licencees tied to big parent companies earn under £10,000 a year.
"The government's indecisiveness on this issue puts the future of many thousands of community pubs at risk," said Mike Benner, chief executive of Camra.
"The large pub companies have had ten years to eliminate unfair practices and to properly support their licensees but have failed to do so.
"The case for government action is overwhelming. We urge the minister to come clean and announce whether or not the government will stick to their pledge to introduce a code and adjudicator."
Publishing the consultation responses, the government said it is "keen to support a thriving and diverse pubs sector".
"There have been longstanding and serious concerns raised about the relationship between large pub companies and their tenants," it said.
"We are continuing to analyse and assess the evidence and we will decide on next steps very soon."
There have been 1,100 written responses and 7,000 online responses to the consultation.
"Left to their own devices the large pub companies will continue to force good licensees out of business and sell many hundreds of valued and profitable pubs for redevelopment," said Benner.
"The solution to a decade of abuse is a code, adjudicator and an option for licensees to pay a market rent only giving them freedom to buy beer at open market prices."
A report by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills on the economic impact of a new code and regulator found that 18% of the 13,300 pubs covered would become unviable for the pub companies that own them.
"The threat that the number of tied pubs currently operated by the pubcos may diminish by between 25‐30% due to closures, even if these pubs subsequently re‐open under a different owner, and disregarding any who may wish to take up the free‐of-tie option, may be sufficient to eliminate the economies of scale in purchasing that many tied tenants in this sector (unknowingly) benefit from," said the report.
"This suggests that there is a real possibility that each of the proposed policy reforms, except possibly the code without permitting guest beer, instead of delivering the policy objective of ensuring tied tenants are treated fairly, i.e, 'no worse off' than free of tie tenants, may lead to the end of a large scale tied pub system."
Pubs have been hit hard by the recession in recent years, as consumers suffer from a sharp decline in incomes. The 2006 smoking ban and cheap supermarket alcoholo have also hurt the industry.
The government appeared to u-turn in April on a pledge to introduce a minimum price per unit of alcohol, a move suggested amid public health concerns over the low cost of alcohol in big supermarkets.