Call for united front on Act

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Related tags: Local government, Metropolitan and non-metropolitan counties of england

by Tony Halstead A number of local councils are beginning to pool their resources in a bid to promote unity and best practice in the drawing up of...

by Tony Halstead A number of local councils are beginning to pool their resources in a bid to promote unity and best practice in the drawing up of policy statements required under the new Licensing Act. But while some areas of the country are managing to achieve a unified approach, other local authorities appear to be drawing up their policies in widely differing ways. In Sheffield the policy statement runs close to 100 pages, while Cardiff has managed to complete the job in a document which runs to just a handful of A4 sides of paper. One trade group believes this may be an indication of the large scale inconsistencies which will arise if the bulk of the 409 local councils in England and Wales insist on going their own way. The Bar Entertainment & Dance Association believes more local authorities should join forces to create policy statements which will lead to greater consistency in the interpretation of complex sections of the Act and its accompanying guidance notes. BEDA chief executive Jon Collins has singled out the county of Essex as a shining example of what can be achieved by a joint approach. Every council across Essex has worked together to produce the model statement which could now form a blueprint for each of the 14 authorities in the county. Collins believes the Essex example is the clear way forward and already there are signs that councils in other counties, such as South Yorkshire, are taking note. "The 13-page Essex policy statement is a very constructive document which sets out licensing objectives in a precise way and makes it very clear to operators what will be expected of them," said Collins. "I think it is a document which will promote best practice and help eradicate the sort of inconsistencies which may well arise from individual authorities insisting on doing their own thing. "You only have to look at some of the different policy statements to see how different authorities view things," he added. Chairman of the Essex Licensing Officers Forum, Martin Reed, said all 14 authorities had worked together to draw up the model statement, which had involved consultation from all interested parties across the licensed trade. "There is no suggestion that all 14 authorities will produce identical policy statements, but the model will be used by each licensing committee as a format from which they can produce their own policies," he said. "I hope we will get licensing policy statements across Essex laid out in the same standardised form but developed to suit the various different local needs." When the Licensing Act guidance notes are finally confirmed by parliament, probably early next month, councils will have six months to produce their final policy statements. Pub, club and bar operators will then be able to register their current licences and certificates with licensing authorities, together with details of their proposed operating plan, in readiness for the big switch over in 2005. Councillors must declare an interest Members of the Forest of Dean's new licensing committee will be expected to declare an interest if their local pub ever comes up for discussion by councillors. But the Gloucestershire-based local authority has denied councillors will be required to sign a register of licensed trade interests before the new committee is formed. The council insisted it was merely extending its current probity and best practices policy which already operates. "This is very much in line with the council's existing probity policy on such matters as planning applications, where councillors are required to declare an interest on specific applications," said communications officer Tony Wisdom. "Obviously if a member of the licensing committee is a regular at a certain pub or licensed premises, a declaration of interest would be expected. "Similarly, if a councillor had interests which might conflict against a premises, the authority would expect a similar declaration. We are merely following tried and tested procedures which currently operate.

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