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Licensees attending the Federation of Licensed Victuallers' Associations' AGM in Scarborough were advised to check their procedures - and check them...

Licensees attending the Federation of Licensed Victuallers' Associations' AGM in Scarborough were advised to check their procedures - and check them again. Daniel Pearce reports.

Having rigid procedures and strict checks in place across your pub will help you prove due diligence - and could save you no end of trouble. That was one of the key messages to emerge from this year's annual meeting of the Federation of Licensed Victuallers' Associations (FLVA), in Scarborough.

Speakers queued up to explain how making check after check was the best way to ensure pubs stay on the right side of the law in everything from health and safety legislation to underage sales.

A new BII-accredited induction scheme for federation members was launched by BII business relationship manager Alice Cardwell-Hodges.

She described how the scheme, which costs licensees just £10+VAT a head and has been developed with FLVA chief executive Tony Payne, would help pubs ensure they stay on the right side of the law.

"This is not just for new staff - it's important that every one of your staff is fully trained," Ms Cardwell-Hodges told the audience of more than 100 licensees.

"If each member of your staff has one of these certificates, you can prove due diligence."

Later, a leading licensing solicitor told delegates how proving due diligence would help licensees get around one of the most confused areas of the new licensing regime.

Anthony Lyons of Manchester law firm Kuit Steinart & Levy said too many councils had tried to insist that a personal licence holder was on the premises at all times. "But the Act doesn't say that," he said. "This will come down to our old friends - best practice and due diligence.

"If the personal licence holder isn't available, make sure you've got the documentation authorising another individual to take on the responsibility.

"Due diligence will get you out of a hole should you fall into one. In many cases the threat of action has been withdrawn after we've been able to demonstrate it."

Due diligence was also a theme picked up by insurance expert Ken Watson of brokers Marsh. Too many licensees were only paying lip service to risk management - defined as "the measures necessary to control, protect and reduce the risks to your assets, liabilities, staff and reputation" - he said. Mr Watson called on licensees to ensure they had an hourly policy for checking on the state of their gents' toilets - the number one area for slips and falls in the pub.

  • Andrew Mathieson, leisure trade consultant for HM Revenue & Customs, explained how pubs could save money by filling out their VAT returns online.

In a room of more than 100 delegates, only one admitted to having used the internet to make their VAT returns. The benefits, said Mr Mathieson, included seven days extra to make payments.

"If more businesses don't do this voluntarily I suspect the government may force the issue," he said.

Ian Walmsley of F&W Financial Solutions, urged licensees to face up to the reality of paying for their old age in a country where the state pension was less than a quarter of what it is in Italy.

"Too many people say my business is my pension," he said. "But I know people who've taken that path and not seen it work out."

Question time over smoking

Half of the FLVA delegates said they would choose to allow smoking in their pubs rather than sell food if the government's current proposals become law.

But Michelle Baker of clean-air initiative AIR (Atmosphere Improves Results) said opting for smoking now may not be the right decision if, as seems highly possible, a complete ban is introduced in 2010.

Ms Baker urged delegates to ask themselves the following questions before taking the plunge and throwing out food:

  • What is your food turnover?
  • How does it compare with drinks takings?
  • What will other pubs in your area do?
  • Is there a members' club nearby?
  • Are there many restaurants nearby?

Pubs that were planning to ban smoking were advised to introduce changes as quickly as possible. "Once the ban is decided you may only have a year to sort yourselves out," she said. "Why not refurbish your dining area? Try something new now and if it doesn't work it doesn't matter as you've got the ball rolling."

Ms Baker illustrated how some Irish pubs had got around the country's blanket ban by introducing ivy plants, adding TVs, pool tables and even jukeboxes to their outside areas.

Views from Scarborough

  • David Hawksworth, the Fox & Hounds, Northallerton

"I wouldn't miss the FLVA AGM for the world. It's topped up my information banks. The new training scheme must be the cheapest one of its kind in the country. Congratulations to the team.

"The speakers have shown that licensees are taking due diligence very seriously indeed. It's the biggest failing of the licensee. It's at the bottom of the list for many, when it should be at the top."

Peter & Jill Wood, the Lowes Arms, Manchester

"The training course sounds very good. For a minimal fee this takes out the hard work. Keeping records is so important. We do all the right things, but we don't always keep records.

"We need more discussion about smoking before anything goes ahead. And I want to know about the police. How will they know what time the pubs close when they are driving down the street?"

Nigel Williams, the Ranmore Inn, the Three Tuns and the White Lion, Sheffield

"The whole smoking issue is absolutely diabolical. It hadn't occurred to me until today that you can't even give people a plate of free sandwiches! We're so far into the legislation but we're still confused.

"It's impossible to be a multiple operator now. I used to have five pubs, now I've got three and next year I hope to have just one. We are constantly living with the threat of legislation."

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