Westminster Council PEL action 'heavy-handed'

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Westminster City Council has sparked renewed anger within the trade over its "heavy-handed" and "unnecessary" enforcement of entertainment...

Westminster City Council has sparked renewed anger within the trade over its "heavy-handed" and "unnecessary" enforcement of entertainment licensing.

The council's recent crackdown on pubs is being seen as a sign of things to come if the government has its way and shifts licensing responsibility from magistrates to local authorities.

Enforcement officers from Westminster have been carrying out spot checks on pubs in Soho, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden to check whether any customers are dancing in outlets that do not hold a public entertainment licence (PEL).

They have also been warning licensees against playing music that "encourages customers to dance" - a move that has incensed many bar and pub owners.

Not only have Westminster's actions infuriated campaigners who have been lobbying for an end to the outdated PEL system, but industry leaders who feel that this type of heavy-handed approach would be repeated across the country if local authorities took on licensing.

One operator said: "The local authorities seem to have discovered a new revenue stream. This is a big worry for the trade - is this the shape of things to come when they deal with local licensing?"

A spokesman for Westminster City Council confirmed that it was clamping down on pubs and bars in its catchment area but denied that it was just a way to make more money.

He said it was simply because Westminster was "stricter at enforcing the rules".

"If pubs and bars are playing music at a louder level then this may be encouraging people to dance," he said. "Licensees also need to look at what type of music they are playing and if this is more likely to make people want to dance."

Licensees in Westminster could be fined up to £20,000 and face six months in prison if any customers are caught dancing on their premises.

Hamish Birchall, co-founder of the Campaign for Live Music which claims the PEL system is killing live music in pubs, is outraged by the news.

"It's just another way to make money," Mr Birchall said. "You've got to remember that Westminster charges more for PELs than any other council in the country."

Stuart Neame, vice-chairman of Kent brewer Shepherd Neame, said: "This is yet another example of local councils being the ultimate party poopers. If licensing reform leads to local councils' controlling all aspects of a pub they will be interested only in fees."

Philip Matthews, head of the Westminster Licensees' Association, said: "These days if someone is clicking their fingers along to a song, the pub will have the council breathing down its neck with threats like this. The whole industry is terrified about the prospect of local authorities having control of licensing."

Bob Cartwright, spokesman for Six Continents, which owns several outlets in Westminster including All Bar One on Leicester Square, said: "This underlines the need for comprehensive licensing reform including PELs and the clarification of the rules."

Related topics Legislation

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