Coulson: DCMS losing the statistics plot

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags New licensing regime Dcms Gambling commission Gambling in the united kingdom

Coulson: DCMS losing the statistics plot
MA legal editor considers the statistics put forward by the DCMS on the Gambling Act

Last week, local authorities throughout the country were required by the terms of the Gambling Act 2005 to send their first quarterly returns to the Gambling Commission, giving details of the licences and permits they had issued.

I hope they have better luck with their responses than the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) did with alcohol and entertainment statistics.

Over 50 councils in England and Wales simply failed to send in any information at all to the DCMS for the first statistical survey under the new licensing regime.

As a result, the overall figures represent a maximum of 86% of the total, and in some cases they were as low as 53%.

And it is on this basis that Gordon Brown is going to pronounce shortly on the effect and impact of the new laws.

The last time the liquor-licensing statistics were compiled, the returns were over 99%.

But that was under the old system, and the details were sent in by justices' clerks, in spite of the fact that they were struggling at the time with imperfect IT provision.

Local councils have had nearly five years now to prepare for their role in licensing.

They have the able assistance of Lacors, their regulatory advisers, to prompt them towards efficiency and good responses. They all have IT systems for sending out council-tax demands and keeping records.

Yet when it comes to licensing, it seems they are simply not up to scratch.

Why is this? I can see no reason why, having a responsibility under the Licensing Act to keep a register of licences and details of all applications, together with licence conditions, they cannot produce fairly quickly a full response to the sort of questions asked by the statistical people at the DCMS.

Apparently, a number of the returns which did arrive were also wrongly compiled and statistically flawed.

The resultant publication, ringed round with warnings and reservations, was unfortunately taken as the full picture by most of the media, including the trade, when it was clear that it could not possibly be accurate.

False impression

An example I gave at the time was that the number of members' clubs had sunk by a massive 7,000 from the previous figure, which on any estimation, including a switch to licensed status, could not possibly be accurate.

The level of return was clearly not helped by the rather wimpish document issued by the DCMS at the time the survey was undertaken, which instead of stressing the importance of accurate and complete figures, gave hostages to fortune by conceding how onerous and difficult the project might be, together with a "do your best" message to councils.

Contrast this with the Gambling Commission, who have taken a rather Revenue & Customs approach to their statistics by stressing the deadline and telling councils to get on with it.

I am willing to bet that the first quarterly gambling statistics will be considerably more accurate than this first attempt at assessing the number of pubs and clubs in England and Wales.

There is one other interesting aspect of the new licensing law that this throws up, which appears to have been totally ignored for a considerable time.

When the Licensing Bill was being presented, great play was made of the fact that to aid a full appreciation of the new system and to assist licensing generally, there would be a central register of licences. This was specifically provided for under section eight of the Licensing Act 2003.

What has happened to this? Absolutely nothing.

The whole idea appears to have been shelved. Instead, we are left with this half-baked approach to important statistics by a department that increasingly appears to be losing the plot when it comes to licensing issues.

Related topics Legislation

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