Can we find a cure for last orders syndrome?

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Talking to groups of licensees recently, I get the distinct impression that the idea of "permitted hours" will linger for a long time after the...

Talking to groups of licensees recently, I get the distinct impression that the idea of "permitted hours" will linger for a long time after the reform takes effect. Like me, they cannot get their heads round the concept of flexibility after a lifetime of listening for the bell. Customers may well have the same problem. Perhaps psychologists will call it "Last Orders Syndrome". "Afters", after what? As I have commented before, one of the issues that is not immediately apparent from the Licensing Bill is how licensees will run this flexible system and how the police will cope with it. At question time I detected more than a hint of puzzlement as to how police resources were going to cope with not two, but perhaps 200 different "closing times" in their district. You see, each pub is going to have its own operating plan, including its own approximate hours. The hours which will be put down on the plan, I guess, will be those that the operator thinks they can get away with in front of the licensing committee. They certainly aren't going to put down fewer hours. So they may end up with suggested closing times of, say, midnight Monday to Thursday and 2am or 3am Friday to Sunday. If this is true flexibility, of course, the local council committee will leave it at that, in the absence of objections. The next applicant may well suggest that he will normally open until 1 am throughout the week, and the next a full 24-hour opening. My question is: How are all these different hours going to be monitored? And do they need to be? There can be no offence of "selling after hours" because there is no specific provision for fixing hours any more. It is true that the operating plan will give an indication of when the premises will be open, but the actual times are not legally binding, in the sense that permitted hours were. Otherwise, we have ended up with localised "permitted hours" fixed by the council. And that's not the plan. Under the current system, leaving aside regular extensions, there is a general understanding that if you are nabbed with customers at 11.30pm, and the till is still ringing merrily (sorry, clicking), you are committing an offence closely akin to armed robbery or GBH and should be dealt with accordingly. With flexibility, is the "crime" going to be in the same league? No, I think that what is more likely to happen is that the police or even local authority "pub policemen" seconded from the environmental health team will go round on periodic snooping parties to see if anyone is opening outside the hours they've got on the computer. Then the designated premises supervisor will be hauled up in front of the committee for a review of the licence, to be asked why he is opening well beyond what he put in his operating plan. So where does that leave the question of drinking-up time? This is another quaint British custom that perhaps will also linger on. The suggestion is that there won't be any room for this in the new system, but of course, there must be. If the landlord wants to stop serving, he must give those who remain a reasonable period to finish their drinks. So it will be back to the bells and the vocal encouragement to sup up and leave. The problem is that, like John Cleese in Clockwise, the British are all victims of times and deadlines. Flexibility is an alien concept. That will not change overnight, whatever the law may say.

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