Reform Bill 'is backward step'

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Brewer shepherd neame, Licensing regime, Local government

Licensees are better off under the existing licensing regime than they would be under the proposed reforms, according to trade campaigners.Speaking...

Licensees are better off under the existing licensing regime than they would be under the proposed reforms, according to trade campaigners.

Speaking to The Publican Newspaper, Stuart Neame, vice-chairman of Kent brewer Shepherd Neame, said the Government's licensing White Paper would "do more harm than good".

He claims rural and community pubs would not win extended hours under the new system and that local authorities would impose onerous conditions on licences that would hinder trade.

Mr Neame said: "Licensees have been conned into thinking they have won flexible opening hours but they haven't realised that the proposals do not offer this."

He is also concerned that extended hours in city centre outlets would hit trade in local pubs, since consumers will not have any more cash to spend.

He launched his own alternative licensing bill last week along with fellow campaigners including Tim Martin, chairman of pub operator JD Wetherspoon.

They want licensing to remain with magistrates rather than move to local authority control as the Government proposes.

Mr Martin said: "We have looked at every aspect of the Government's proposals and believe it will be an administrative disaster."

The alternative bill, drawn up by legal expert Peter Coulson, now has the support of 19 pub operators but insiders have warned that the Government will drop plans for licensing reform if the trade continues to argue over the detail of the proposals.

Officials are already understood to be annoyed by opposition to the plans.

Ian Foulkes, from the Local Government Association, warned last week that the growing split within the trade over the proposed reforms could lead ministers to reconsider the whole package.

He said: "If the industry wants the flexibility that the reform will bring it must be through local authorities. It can't be administered through magistrates because that's not how it has been planned.

"This is a once in a generation chance for change and I would hate to see it disappear."

Other trade groups including the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association (BLRA) claim the pub trade will benefit from the proposals.

Mark Hastings, spokesman for the BLRA, said: "It is the Government's and the industry's intention that this should be a liberalising reform."

But Mr Neame claims ministers are trying to push the licensing bill through and will not listen to trade views.

He said that in a recent meeting with Home Secretary Jack Straw, civil servant Andrew Cunningham said he had already drafted the guidelines.

This contradicts earlier assurances by licensing minister Mike O'Brien that the trade would be fully consulted before the guidelines were written.

He said: "It looks to me as if the Government is writing this and just getting us in to say 'yes' to it."

But sources close to the Government say the guidelines have not been started and that consultation with the trade will be a vital part of the process.

Related stories:

The point of no reform (May 22, 2001)

Related topics: Professional Services & Utilities

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