Council overhaul will cut red tape

By Tony Halstead

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensing authorities License Chief executive

Council overhaul will cut red tape
Trade groups welcome proposals to reform local government and reduce number of licensing authorities

Trade groups have welcomed proposals to reform local government in a move that could radically reduce the number of different licensing authorities across England and Wales.

The plans to overhaul the current district council system and introduce new unitary and streamlined county authorities could see many multiple operators able to deal with one single licensing council for the first time.

We would find the issue of greater consistency in licensing and planning decisions attractive.​ALMR chief executive Nick Bish.

Although final plans will not be announced until later in the year the proposed abolition of scores of small councils could give the trade more consistent decision-making and cut down on red tape.

The move has received a cautious welcome from the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers, a sector of the retail trade which might stand to gain most from the reforms.

Chief executive Nick Bish said: "We would find the issue of greater consistency in licensing and planning decisions attractive.

"It is not clear how these mega-authorities would work the licensing system and one has to wonder how decisions would be made from such a long distance away - people might feel disenfranchised.

"We would especially want to know how the new system would be delivered."

Federation of Licensed Victuallers chief executive Tony Payne said: "In theory, the fewer licensing authorities a multiple licensee has to deal with the better.

"Much depends on the kind of replacement authorities and how they will operate in practice."

One north-east-based company, New Century Inns, currently deals with 30 different licensing authorities covering its 50 pubs. The proposals might mean 13 licensing authorities in two parts of the region replaced by just two big authorities.

Company boss Alistair Arkley said: "My gut feeling is the abolition of smaller councils would be a big step forward.

"If better people are running things you will get more rational policies and more consistency. But like most big reforms it's very much a wait-and-see situation."

The consultation period on the proposals continues until 22 June with the announcement of legislation expected later this autumn.

Council reform could be 'double-edged sword'​Manchester licensing solicitor Anthony Horne has warned the reforms could end up a double-edged sword. He fears large centralised licensing authorities could be deluged by a huge administrative burden if efficiency measures meant big job cuts.

"Many local councils are still only just getting to grips with the new Licensing Act, and getting rid of so many authorities might simply land too much on the plate of these new authorities," he said.

"In a huge area such as Lancashire, for example, it's difficult to imagine how one central licensing policy could work over such contrasting urban and rural environments," he added. "While the aim may be for more consistent decision-making there are lots of other implications to weigh in."

South Yorkshire-based multiple lessee Alan Jane said he feared services would suffer through an enlarged system. Jane runs 10 pubs in three different licensing areas, Barnsley, Sheffield and Wakefield, and says contact with the system might be lost.

"At the moment I can pick up a phone and speak to the relevant licensing officer if I have a problem, and this might be lost if the system was radically changed," he said.

Related topics Legislation

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