Election 2001

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Related tags: Red tape, Licensing reform, Liberal democrats, Labour, Red tape group

What do the main contenders have in store for the trade?Labour Conservative Liberal DemocratThe Red Tape Group give their perspective on the Election...

What do the main contenders have in store for the trade?LabourConservativeLiberal Democrat

The Red Tape Group give their perspective on the Election promises:Red Tape Group's perspective

Issues such as foot-and-mouth and delayed licensing reform have spurred the trade into taking on the establishment itself:Making a stand

Despite a seemingly apathetic nation of voters, the General Election will grip the UK on Thursday. Caroline Nodder and Kerry Rogan examine what the main political parties have pledged for the trade.

Despite the fact this year's General Election looks like a bit of a one horse race as far as the result goes, that doesn't mean that many of the issues and policies raised by the various candidates will not have an impact on the pub trade.

While political pundits were placing their money on Europe as the big issue of the campaign, the first two weeks saw the plight of small business pushed into the spotlight.

This was good news for pubs, and the announcement by the LibDems of a package of measures aimed at easing the burden of excessive red tape prompted further pledges by Labour and the Tories.

Other issues raised by the trade during the run up to election day on June 7 were beer duty, the minimum wage, rural rate relief and licensing reform.

But what is the general feeling among licensees and how confident is the trade that any of the main political parties can deliver on these issues?

Labour has not inspired a huge amount of confidence among the licensed trade during its four years in office. Trade leaders have criticised its methods on a number of occasions, especially over delays in implementing licensing reform.

It seems ministers are all too happy to jump in with vote-winning legislation like the Criminal Justice and Police Bill. But more wide-reaching and possibly controversial issues like licensing are put firmly on the back-burner if there is even a hint of public concern.

They have also been accused of changing their minds too often - usually as a result of public reaction to a leaked story in the national newspapers - and many licensees feel they are improving benefits for staff only by penalising small businesses.

Research by The Publican Newspaper has shown that licensees have tended to vote Tory in the past. Forty-four per cent of respondents to last year's Market Report survey of around 1,000 licensees said they supported the Tories with 20 per cent backing Labour.

A mini-poll carried out on The Publican's website at www.thepublican.com last week found that 44 per cent supported the Tories, 37 per cent Labour, 14 per cent LibDem and five per cent another party or independent candidate.

Ironically, it is probably the Liberal Democrats who have the most pub-friendly outlook in their election manifesto this year but a lack of faith in their electability means this is not reflected in the party's support.

Meanwhile, the Tory Party appears to have suffered in terms of support under the leadership of William Hague, and has failed to come up with the policies the pub trade would have liked to see in its manifesto.

The cut in beer duty is there, but only for low alcohol beers which represent a fraction of the beer market as a whole.

It seems likely the UK will see another term under the Labour government, with recent polls predicting another landslide victory.

The main concerns for the future among licensees and pub operators will be the increasing quantity of regulations and the outcome of the licensing reform proposals.

As far as red tape is concerned, the trade will be looking for a lot more evidence that Labour is cutting down on excessive regulation.

It will also be awaiting positive movement on licensing reform, likely to be included in this year's Queen's Speech.

Issues hovering on the horizon, and a good reason for the trade to keep up its strong lobbying efforts, include the threat of tougher restrictions on smoking in pubs and proposals to introduce a compulsory 100 per cent liquid pint.

Both these issues have been sidelined while the Government works on its election campaign and deals with the foot-and-mouth crisis but will more than likely resurface after polling day.

The trade will also feel the effect of the Criminal Justice and Police Bill, which was approved just before Parliament was dissolved at the start of the election campaign.

The bill includes plans for police to have powers to close problem pubs on the spot and is likely to be brought in by the new Home Secretary as one of the first of his duties.

Speculation so far over a possible Cabinet reshuffle sees David Blunkett as the front runner to take the post from Jack Straw, something that has led to concern among trade leaders who fear he may take a tougher line on crime and disorder which could lead to further restrictions for pubs.

This would also leave Mr Blunkett in charge of taking the licensing reform proposals forward during the next year.

Despite tabloid promises of 24-hour opening by the new year, the reform bill is likely to take at least another year to materialise and there will then be a phasing-in period that could take up to another year before pubs see the benefits.

Thursday's vote may be considered by most to be a foregone conclusion but the trade still has a lot to fight for.

Labour

The Labour Party has had a controversial first term in office as far as licensees are concerned.

Over 70 new pieces of legislation have affected pubs directly including the minimum wage and the Working Time Directive and there is more to come according to the Party manifesto.

Promised changes if Labour is elected for a second term in office, as seems increasingly likely, include:

  • a rise in the minimum wage to £4.20
  • an increase in paid maternity leave to £100 per week
  • the introduction of paid paternity leave.

Also on the agenda is the Criminal Justice and Police Bill which has provoked a number of concerns within the trade, especially related to plans to give police powers to close problem pubs on the spot.

While trade leaders celebrated a partial victory when ministers agreed to alter the wording of the bill, there is still irritation within the trade that the Government chose to push ahead with it.

Many of the proposals were taken from the licensing reform bill and trade leaders believe they should have waited until that was passed.

Labour has, perhaps prompted by interest from other parties, also promised to look at the issue of red tape and in particular the role of the Small Business Service in helping to cut excessive regulation.

It has been criticised over the past three years for a failure to consult interested parties on proposed legislation and also for a lack of impact assessment into what the effect of new regulations will be on small businesses.

Licensees complain that legislation, especially that related to employment, has taken them away from the bar and into the office. This uses valuable time form-filling and adds to costs because of the need for extra staff to cover at the bar.

The Labour Small Business Strategy includes pledges to tackle red tape with a "litmus test". This would involve groups of small businesses being used as consultants during the drafting of new legislation.

It also proposes a Timesaver programme aimed at simplifying regulation through the internet and computer software enabling small businesses to cut the amount of time they spend on form-filling.

It will also look at simplifying the tax system, particularly VAT, intr

Related topics: Legislation

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