New Year climate may impact on licensing

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Related tags: Alcohol consumption, Public house, License

Over the years, official attitudes towards the question of alcohol consumption have swung this way and that ­ not always predictably, as a matter of...

Over the years, official attitudes towards the question of alcohol consumption have swung this way and that ­ not always predictably, as a matter of fact. This makes the job of the licensed trade and its lobbyists all the more difficult. Predicting which way successive governments will jump on the issues involved is not easy, when politics increasingly appears to be about sound-bites and knee-jerk reactions. Put in its simplest form, one of the major issues is whether alcohol consumption should be controlled and restricted (eg, by curtailing hours of sale) or whether judgement should be left to the individual to decide what level of consumption, and at what times, is healthy. Christmas is not perhaps the best time to analyse the state of the nation's health, however, but I am sure that it is a crucial time to examine what attitudes might be forming in respect of the future for the licensed trade. This year will, it is hoped, see the start of the changeover to a new system of licensing ­ a simple administrative change, we are told, with no other implications for the trade beyond sweeping away unwanted rules and obsolete legislation. Well, those of you who read this column regularly will know that I do not for a moment swallow that one ­ and probably neither do most of my readers. For a start, there will be new policies to contend with, based on new "licensing objectives", which means that local authorities will have to think about what they want out of the licensing system and how much premises should be controlled as a result. If they were to do that in a climate of entrepreneurial zeal, with full-hearted support from the Government for liberalisation and freedom from restraint, it might afford the licensed trade good reason to cheer in the New Year. But I suspect a different climate. Recent articles and television programmes have clearly emphasised the down-side of alcohol consumption, sometimes graphically. There are stark warnings on the state of our young people's health, from obesity to over-consumption generally. In particular, the emphasis is now on the way in which alcohol is offered to the young, with the implications that teenage drinking must be curtailed, that some cities are "no-go" areas for the over-30s at night and that a booze culture exists in many places. This is not a fair picture, but legislative reaction is not based on fairness; rather, as I have said, on the mood of the moment. The vast majority of licensees and their customers are responsible and self-regulating. It is not they who are in the spotlight, but the minority who act irresponsibly. But the reaction may well impinge on the whole trade. In what ways? Well, over the next six months local councils will be honing their policies and consulting with various interested parties on what should be included. Trade leaders have urged licensees to become involved in this consultation, but in some areas it appears that the actual "consultation" merely means a circular letter asking for details on the pub and what hours you are likely to request. That is not what the Government intended. They saw the development of the actual policy as a joint effort between all those who might be affected by the entertainment and pub industry, including the retailers themselves. While the final say in what is included must be for the council to decide, they ought to listen carefully to all sides of the question. I for one am sorry that the case for a more relaxed approach to drinking times, rather than the headline-grabbing idea of pubs opening round the clock, has not been more in evidence. Is it that the licensed trade is nervous of putting a positive spin on the relaxations, for fear of a late-night backlash from residents?

Related topics: Licensing law

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