Little joy from our PEL saga

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I recently made an application for a public entertainment licence and for extended hours. The local EHO did not object, the police did not object and...

I recently made an application for a public entertainment licence and for extended hours. The local EHO did not object, the police did not object and the fire officer had no objection. However, the application did attract objections from a local residents' association and letters of objection from 24 individual local residents. After much ado ­ the process taking more than four months and involving a lot of red tape ­ I was delighted to have the application granted. It was a very close call, two councillors voted for and one against. The licence was only granted for a six-month period and was subject to certain works and alterations to the premises. Those works and alterations have now been completed and we are up and running with our PEL and extended hours. The full cost of the exercise is now known ­ it is a massive £21,766. You would be forgiven for thinking that the premises concerned was a large nightclub and that we stayed open until three or four in the morning seven days a week. You would be mistaken. The premises is licensed for up to 180 people. The extra hours that were granted ­ two per week, from 11pm to midnight on Friday and on Saturday nights. Is this what the minister (Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell) meant when she promised that licensing reform would mean less bureaucracy and significant savings? Welcome to the new world. Vincent Healy Ascot Inns Smoke signals from NY's ban There has been considerable debate in your columns about the anticipated effects of future Government legislation banning smoking in pubs. I recently visited New York for a couple of days in order to see the results of the recent ban on smoking in bars at first hand. Anecdotal evidence from bar owners and staff is that trade has dropped by an average of between 25% and 30%, and after eight weeks, there is a continuing decline in sales. Different surveys by the New York Post, New York Newsday and BBC Radio 4, amongst others, have concluded much the same thing. Friday and Saturday evening trade has been more resilient, but, perhaps surprisingly, there has been a big effect on lunchtime and after-work trade. This is possibly due to the fact that most workplaces are now smoke free, and smokers previously used pubs to eat or drink, but have stopped doing so. A number of commentators, for example David Elliott of Greene King and Tom Mellish of the TUC, have concluded that banning smoking will increase trade for pubs. The experience of New York, and the opinions of British and Irish licensees in various surveys, indicate that this is unlikely. Wetherspoon has campaigned against the transfer of licensing power to politicians, since, as in the case of New York, it increases the probability of legislation that could have a random or devastating effect on pubs. Could local authorities, for example, make the prohibition of smoking a condition of pub licences? Stuart Neame has correctly pointed out the dangers of bureaucratic interference and rule making on the future of pubs and it is perhaps pertinent for pub companies, employees and licensees to ponder the New York experience. John Hutson Managing Director JD Wetherspoon Clearing fug at Red Lion As a regular customer of the Lower Red Lion in St Albans, I wish to respond to Roger Protz's article in the Morning Advertiser of the 22 May. To begin with, neither the previous nor the present licensee can recall him visiting the pub. This could, of course, be down to memory loss on their part, brought about by cigarette smoke, which would likewise account for me never having seen him either. Also, the lower element in the pub's name doesn't refer to its ceilings, which have adequate headroom for most people of shorter stature than Goliath. Mr Protz claims that inhaling other people's smoke induces "the inevitable cold", and also that smoke flattens foam and ruins the aroma of beer. I would be happy to peruse whatever scientific research material he has in support of these assertions. Incidentally, smoke and nicotine are separate considerations. As it happens, a while ago, another pub in St Albans made its front bar non smoking. Demand was such that the policy has since been reversed ­ so that the situation is patently not clear cut. I accept that the issue needs discussion, but suggest that Protz's line in diatribe is not conducive to reaching a workable answer. Mike Lloyd 226B London Road St Albans Hertfordshire Head goes here Your editorial is absolutely right. Regrettably it is only the tip of the iceberg. These people are typical of the ones who contribute to the enormous failure rate in the industry. The industry at worst put people through one day's training, the National Certificate for Licensees, which only brings people up to date with Licensing Law and that is only because the magistrates insist on it. Very few people at the best will do two weeks training and they are turned loose with a pub, which the difference between pubs is enormous in terms of operation, the diversification of products to sell is enormous. McDonalds used to put people through a years training in a totally uniform business with a uniform range of products and their failure rate was minimal, and people taking pubs wonder why they fail. We fail to ensure that people are compatible with the industry and are compatible with each other within the industry. Very few pub companies are committed to continual professional development with incentives for their tenants and leases to avail themselves of these benefits. To be fair the large proportion of licensees who I meet think that doing the NCL is all you need to run a pub, no wonder they fail to use a solicitor in buying a lease. Plausible people selling their leases frequently tell people that it is a standard lease and cannot be changed, therefore they can save money by not using a solicitor since he can do nothing to change it, apart from telling them not to touch it with a barge pole. One pub company was quoted to me as having their leases on average changing hands every 276 days, if this is right the business loss to the company is enormous, in terms of administration, lack of continuity of cash flow and business interruption. To some companies it's an irresponsible game, there's always another punter round the corner with his redundancy or proceeds from selling his house, this approach is immoral. The industry is being run by accountants who have very little idea how a licensee thinks and operates, there are far better ways of running pub co's than a large number of the present operations. Whilst they are run as property estates, perceived asset growth has priority, if the company is in it for the long term and serious business growth is it's target which leads to a more solid asset growth at the end of the day. There are a lot of different ways to achieve this, but until the accountants and money men understand how and why a good licensee ticks and we remove the incompatible element from the industry before they destroy too many good pubs, nothing will change. There is a whole lot more that can be said but this will do for the moment. I have just had a fairly long meeting with one of the major pub co's strategic planning guy on this subject, they were certainly interested in some of the ideas. If you think some of these comments are worth publishing please do, it needs airing, or if you want some more. Nigel Wakefield FBII Address??

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