The results of reform

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Related tags: Local authority, Local government, Kim howells

It's been a long journey. Representations on licensing reform were first made to the government in 1999 and the Licensing White Paper drawn up in...

It's been a long journey. Representations on licensing reform were first made to the government in 1999 and the Licensing White Paper drawn up in 2000.

Now, after all the drafts, debates and discussions, the Licensing Act has passed through Parliament.

But opinion on the final legislation is far from unanimous.

Views range from relief that an antiquated system has been replaced, to long-held beliefs that the new system will merely increase red tape and complicate the licensing process.

Here is a cross-section of opinions from the pub industry on the 2003 Licensing Act.

David Clifton: Publican legal specialist from solicitor Joelson Wilson

Licensing reform is a complete disaster. The transitional period is going to lead to chaos and I don't think local authorities are going to be ready and able when it is imposed on them. Many issues have not been thought through properly, for instance, there are no clear guidelines if you want to carry out alterations. So many things are not clear.

We are still awaiting guidance. We had the first draft in February, which ran to 104 pages. It is looking likely to be double that length - and that's just the guidance; you can imagine just how difficult it is going to be to unravel the act.

John McNamara: chief executive, British Institute of Innkeeping (BII)

We and the other trade bodies represented on the government's advisory group have won some significant concessions from the government on a number of key issues.

For example, we would not have been granted grandfather rights which allow existing licensees to transfer into the new system without the need for further training, checks or reapplication. We have also ensured that existing premises can continue to operate with their existing hours and permissions. Without this strong lobbying effort we would not have been given the right of appeal to magistrates and we have consistently worked to ensure that fees are kept to a minimum and are set centrally.

Obviously there have been some disappointments along the way - we still feel that the process for registering a new Designated Premises Supervisor is unnecessarily complex for example - but we also have to acknowledge that the pub trade was only one of the sectors around the table and was unlikely to win every battle.

Most importantly, the time for arguing among ourselves and campaigning against this act is now past. We must pick it up and run with it.

I believe there are great opportunities for licensees in the new system and it is extremely important that we exploit them. The BII is running a series of licensing roadshows and a national conference and will also be providing advice and guidance to help licensees, both members and non-members, with the transition to the new regime.

I would urge all licensees to get in touch with their local authority and get involved in the consultations, which are going to be taking place all over England and Wales to decide how the act is introduced in their area. Make sure your voices are heard.

William Lees-Jones: managing director, JW Lees

I view the act with a huge degree of frustration. The trade tried to sit down with a series of ministers, particularly Dr Kim Howells, to make the reform work. And all we have got is something no-one seems particularly happy with.

The campaign for reform was something we supported - it needed looking at. What really worries me is the bureaucracy.

For example, if an ex-rugby player hangs up his boots and wants to take on a new tenancy, he would have to go through a lot to get it. He would phone the local authority for advice on his first step. Then he would go to the BII and do one of its courses. Then he would get back to the local authority and ask it to send leaflets for information on what he needs to do to comply with the licensing law. He would then receive about 60 to 70 leaflets, detailing all the rules that have to be followed and applied.

People trying to enter the trade will realise there is too much to do and walk away from it.

Richard Sanders: licensee, Stonemasons Arms, Heywood, Lancashire

I see the act being a load of trouble. I don't like the fact that licensing authority has been given to council bureaucrats who know the locals. They may be friends with a resident who wants the pub on their street closed down. It's going to be biased.

The biggest thing is the fear of not knowing what is going to happen. We should have a Licensed Victuallers Association (LVA) representative on the local licensing board.

We've been waiting for licensing reform for years but this is not the forward step that licensees were hoping for.

I thought they could get hold of this issue and get rid of the bad licensees. At the moment some of these small pubcos will let anyone take over a pub, with no training or anything. This was a missed opportunity to do something good and improve standards.

I am worried about the need to sign a tenancy agreement every three years. I just feel that every time the tenancy agreement comes up for renewal the local authority will put some new condition on it, thus increasing the cost.

I have said no to this all along. I voted in an LVA ballot and polls in The Publican. What good was it? My voice was a waste of time in this debate. The bill was always going to be passed anyway.

Ted Tuppen: chief executive, Enterprise Inns

I'm pleased we have reform. Licensing before this was medieval and now we have made it more flexible. We negotiated with the government and won some important concessions, such as the register of interests.

It is now down to us to engage local government, in the same way we did with national government, to ensure there isn't increased red tape.

There will be rogue councils but there were rogue magistrates. I don't think it is wrong for local authorities to have the power. Pubs have been and always should be accountable to their neighbours.

Licensing desperately needed reform. It was embarrassing when tourists would come to London and be blinking in disbelief when they were being thrown out of a pub at 11pm.

Stuart Neame: vice chairman, Shepherd Neame

If we'd just wanted pubs to open an extra hour or two at weekends, we could have got that by simple deregulation. But instead, the trade demanded full-blooded reform to cut bureaucracy and cost. The result has been an appalling increase in both.

We have paid a terrible price for that extra red tape: local authority control, unprecedented rights for residents to stifle their local's activities, the playing-field tilted heavily against the community pub, and even greater police powers. Licensees will pay dearly for these changes.

Worse, we have even lost the minimum safeguards set out in Ted Tuppen's letter to the then licensing minister, Dr Kim Howells, last May. Ted reminded Kim of the White Paper's promises that reform would bring less regulation and more freedom to adapt; that a personal licensee could run any pub without further formality; that the premises licence could not be jeopardised by the personal licensee; that the local authority could not be prosecutor and adjudicator in the same case; and that there would be no increase in cost to the average pub. We have been double-crossed on not just one, but all of these.

There are some winners: Whitehall, local councils, neighbours, the police and a few late-licensed pubs. But all t

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