Time for jaw-jaw before it's war-war

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Portsmouth has more pubs per head of population than any other place in Britain ­ yet the head of its licensing committee admits he's in the dark...

Portsmouth has more pubs per head of population than any other place in Britain ­ yet the head of its licensing committee admits he's in the dark about the new Licensing Act. That's angering licensees in Portsmouth, who are naturally concerned about how the new regime is going to work and what it's going to cost them. It's unfair to blame the councillor ­ no one yet knows what the costs are going to be, or many of the final crucial details about the balance of powers between local authority, licensees and police. But what Portsmouth, and most other local authorities, can be blamed for is a clear failure to set up initial working parties to explore what lies ahead. They've not even responded to letters from the local LVA asking for help. A few local authorities have already set up licensing forums ­ Wessex, for one, where the indefatigable Robert Feal-Martinez has worked well with the local tourism council to offer licensees guidance on the transition. But there's not enough of them to give the trade confidence that there's much planning behind the scenes to ensure that the vast logistical exercise of swapping one licensing regime for another will go well. It shouldn't take much for a local authority to start the communication process with its local licensees. It's surely a good idea to start holding meetings, even if the final details are still to come: we do know about 95% of what's coming down the line. It would also be a good idea if councillors indicated to their local constituents that they are committed to signing up for licensing training courses ­ the kind of smart gesture that marks out the genuine statesman from the mediocre local politician. Of course, it would also be nice if there was an organisation for the local authority world that was equivalent to the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group, a new body that would allow the pub trade to talk as easily with local authorities as the APPBG does with Westminster. Sadly, by its nature, the diffused local authority world defies such solutions. There just has to be much more talking on the ground ­ and it has to happen now.

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