Industry split over licensing

Related tags Licensing Licensing reform License Stuart neame

The trade is in danger of being cut out of the consultation process on licensing altogether if it does not act to end confusion and...

The trade is in danger of being cut out of the consultation process on licensing altogether if it does not act to end confusion and in-fighting.

Insiders say ministers are losing patience with trade wrangling over the reform plans and may decide to push ahead with the proposals regardless.

The warning follows the launch of a campaign by Kent brewer Shepherd Neame's vice-chairman Stuart Neame aimed at derailing the current government plans, which he claims will do the trade more harm than good.

One industry observer, who asked not to be named, warned that, while the trade saw itself as a vital part of the consultation process, ministers could and would go ahead with reform without them if they threatened to derail it.

The campaign has split the trade, with some licensees and pub operators wanting to push on with the proposals, others claiming they need urgent revision and some supporting the campaign for a total re-think.

Confusion has also surfaced over how much importance should be attached to the recently released government drafting instructions, which outline the legal framework for the bill. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport has dismissed concern over these, saying they are merely legal outlines and do not have any bearing on the substance of the bill.

But trade associations including the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers have publicly voiced their concern over the instructions and warned that the bill could be far more restrictive than the trade was hoping. Mr Neame last week called on licensees to tell him if they agree with his campaign to "kill the bill".

He has organised a petition in support of his case and reaffirmed this week that he believes the proposed system could prove costly and time consuming for licensees and pubcos.

The petition reads: "The original objectives of licensing reform cannot be met without a major re-thinking of the drafting instructions, which may not be possible before the next Queen's Speech."

British Institute of Innkeeping chief executive John McNamara used his address at the association's annual lunch to urge ministers to listen to the trade.

"We still need answers to the very serious points the industry has raised," he said.

Dialogue continued this week with a meeting between the British Beer and Pub Association and licensing minister Dr Kim Howells described as "constructive".

But the trade may be running out of time if it wants to get its voice heard, since a draft bill must be in place by the time of the Queen's Speech in November if the bill is to go through.

This leaves only five months for further debate.

The government has proposed

  • Flexible licensing hours, permitting up to 24-hour-a-day opening for seven days a week, subject to the impact on local residents
  • Licensing control moved from magistrates to local authorities
  • A dual licensing system including fully portable 10-year personal licences
  • A single premises licence for selling alcohol, providing entertainment and opening at night
  • Children allowed access to any part of licensed premises at the personal licence holder's discretion
  • "Fairness and transparency" in licensing applications.

Where the problems lie

  • Many licensees, pubcos and trade associations want licensing to remain inthe control of magistrates, rather than pass to local authorities, fearing decisions will become political or give too much weight to local residents
  • Before they are granted a licence, applicants will have to submit a detailed operating plan for the pub - this is considered by many to be an unnecessary piece of red tape
  • It is feared the personal licences will not be fully portable as operating plans may have to name the owner/operator of the pub - again meaning more red tape
  • Flexible hours may not be truly flexible if local authorities decide to impose terminal hours - such as those imposed by Westminster City Council
  • It is thought the new system will give licensees extra responsibility to prevent nuisance, crime and disorder on their premises - with their licencesat risk if they do not
  • Licensing fees could increase.

Licensing views:

"Pubs are at the heart of our communities, both in town and country. But our licensing laws speak for another decade, not our own. I am determined that we deliver on our promises and bring forward our new proposals to modernise our licensing laws as soon as possible.

"By allowing strict Edwardian laws to deny children real access to the world of pubs, we have made a rod for our own backs. It doesn't protect young people, it denies them a chance to socialise with their families and normalise drinking alcohol."Culture minister Tessa Jowell

"The licensing situation is an absolute shambles. The case for reform has been blindingly obvious all my working life and nothing has happened. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport is a shower of time wasters and the politicians are a bunch of liars. I could write a licensing bill on a side of A4 paper."Chris Hutt, managing director, Wizard Inns

"The trade seems to be seduced by this word 'reform'. But in reality the current proposals will mean more restrictions and more expense for licensees. All the costs of licensing reform will be borne by the licensees. We will have a raft of new rules but without any corresponding benefit."Tim Martin, chairman, JD Wetherspoon

"Moving licensing control to local authorities will remove a tried and tested system which has independence and impartiality built into it."Chief Superintendent Simon Humphrey, head of the Metropolitan Police drugs and vice unit

"Magistrates have handled licensing for many years in an efficient and effective way and we see no reason to change this system.

"If local authorities were to take on this responsibility, our concern is that the process would be slowed down to an unacceptable level and move into non-expert hands.

"We intend to actively lobby the government to introduce more flexible and customer-friendly licensing."Andrew Thompson, operations director, Punch Pub Company

Have your say will be acting on your behalf to help take licensing reform forward - but we need your help.

Widespread disagreement and confusion over what is the best way forward is clouding the fact that our current licensing system is outdated and is restricting the pub trade.

Reform is needed and needed fast. We are asking you to tell us what you would like to see changing under the reform plans. You can do this either by filling in our online questionnaire or by cutting out the licensing response form that will appear in the June 3 issue of The Publican Newspaper.

The Publican team will be collating the responses to find a consensus that will be presented to culture minister Tessa Jowell to help clarify the trade's position.

Do you think there is a need for licensing reforms? Have your say - fill in our online questionnaire NOW!

Related topics Licensing law

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