DCMS has to learn its lesson

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: License, Minister, Dcms

DCMS has to learn its lesson
It may seem churlish to criticise a venture such as the Scrutiny Councils, which I think was a good idea, but is it not a case of "too little, too...

It may seem churlish to criticise a venture such as the Scrutiny Councils, which I think was a good idea, but is it not a case of "too little, too late"?

The time to analyse how a new system of licensing would work in practice was before the implementation of the Act, not afterwards. True, there were consultative groups and working parties, but the main feedback from these seemed to be that the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) did not want to listen, preferring to go its own way. The result, as many will know, was any number of problems, appalling forms, late or non-existent advice and general dissatisfaction.

Even the councils' report was penned by the DCMS. It is not an independent review of the workings of the new legislation - the DCMS has had two of those on its desk and rejected both.

What the report does seem to show is there are a number of improvements the department is "considering" with a view to amending the Guidance later this year. Whether they will see the light of day has to be a matter of considerable doubt.

Of course, licensing minister Shaun Woodward puts a positive spin on this - while it is "too early" to draw any conclusions on the success of the new Act, he does just that.

Even though it is admitted in the report that some councils in the Scrutiny group itself have not yet issued all their licences and only expect to do so "by the end of the summer", last November there were claims by the minister and local government representatives that almost every licence had been issued. I got into hot water for suggesting otherwise, but I was right, and now it is in print from the councils themselves.

A system that gave a six-month transition period that is taking 18 months to complete suggests someone in the Government badly miscalculated. No wonder the Scots, watching the chaos, have allowed themselves plenty of time for their similar transition process, even though they are not even moving responsibility to a different body.

We hear a lot from Government ministers about "lessons being learned." The problem is it seems to happen every time. We never get out of the classroom, and in the case of the DCMS, it seems it doesn't even want to look at the textbooks!

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