National Pubwatch Conference 2009

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: National pubwatch, Police, Want, License

The Victorian splendour of the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate was the setting for this year's National Pubwatch Conference.But the topics on the agenda...

The Victorian splendour of the Majestic Hotel in Harrogate was the setting for this year's National Pubwatch​ Conference.

But the topics on the agenda were very much the issues of the modern day - from the new industry code of practice governing drinks retailing, to the relationship between police and publicans, and the legal challenges facing some local Pubwatch schemes.

And these themes were highlighted in a truly contemporary style with actors playing out a series of scenarios prompting debate among the more than 250 publicans, licensing officers and police officers who attended.

And while the sketches mapped out challenges facing licensees the head of the Home Office's Alcohol Strategy Unit Ziggy MacDonald sought to allay fears that the new code of practice would pile reams of new bureaucracy and costs on pubs.

Speaking during the opening session MacDonald said: "The legislation merely sets the framework for the new code of practice to allow a small number of mandatory conditions - a maximum of nine - on licensed premises."

Trade groups have raised fears that the new code - which includes a crackdown on various drink-related promotions - could cost the industry around £300m in the first year alone.

But MacDonald said the code was being targeted at only the most irresponsible promotions such as 'drink as much as you want' deals.

"Whatever you might read in the press, the code will have to pass a number of tests not least to meet the objectives of the Licensing Act and it should not impose a disproportionate cost on business," he said.

MacDonald went on to describe how drinking banning orders were likely to be enforced on offenders from later this year. The measure - dubbed "booze ASBOs" by the popular press - allows police and local authorities to stop a person entering licensed premises for up to two years. The step has been available since 2006 but it has yet to be widely used.

While the Home Office is often criticised for being quick to bring in new laws but slow to make full use of existing legislation, MacDonald described how the Home Office was working hard to ensure existing laws are enforced, through council officer training, communication campaigns and investment in Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships.

'A more consistent approach'

Later Andrew Nicholls, security and licensing manager of Mitchells & butlers of Mitchells & Butlers made a plea for a more consistent approach to enforcement of existing laws by both the police and local authorities.

He called on councils to follow the example of Liverpool, and tell licensed premises when they had successfully refused a test purchase - and not only to inform premises when they fail.

"A lot of test purchasing goes on and a lot of venues pass the test - they need to know," he said.

"Encouragement is better than enforcement. Enforcement should be a last resort when things go wrong. As pubs are so important to the community it's very important that the agencies work with pubs."

The threat to Pubwatch bans raised by recent court cases were the subject of a workshop session at the conference.

A legal challenge by a Buckingham man was thrown out of the High Court last November - but a second case involving a man banned from pubs in Haverhill, Suffolk, is due to be heard later this year.

Whilst warning publicans not to be unduly alarmed, top licensing barrister Steven Walsh set out a series of scenarios in which Pubwatches could be seen to be 'public' organisations - thus leaving themselves open to legal action from banned customers looking to argue that their civil liberties were being infringed.

Chairman Steve Baker said both local Pubwatches and the national organisation would refuse to be cowed by the threat of such legal action.

"Individuals want to use the courts to try to overturn Pubwatch bans - which is why it is so important that we continue to maintain the character and integrity of the organisation," he said.

"Together we can make a real difference for those who want to socialise in the night time economy."

Police chief looks forward to cultural challenge

City centres and the image of licensed premises can undergo the same cultural change as football grounds have since the 1980s, according to a senior police chief.

Speaking at the National Pubwatch Conference, Chief Inspector Adrian Studd described how football grounds had changed completely from the places of fear they were often seen as 30 years ago.

"Who would have believed that we'd now have all-seater stadiums full of family occasions, and they are even turning into wedding venues?" he said.

"This is an indication of cultural change, and this is what we need to reflect on with some town centres and in some of our drinking establishments."

Studd said it was time to "change the mantra" around the licensed trade.

"'Binge Britain' and 'broken Britain' were relevant 10 years ago when we needed to raise the profile of the problem. But now we need to look at some of the more positive aspects of drinking, whilst reducing the opportunity for problems," he said.

"Alcohol is very important to the economy, providing jobs, money and attracting tourism. The police recognise that and we wouldn't want to diminish the effect of your industry."

Studd denied the police were anti-alcohol - but said they were anti-miss-sale and anti-misuse. "And if you put those two together you get misbehaviour, which we are very anti."

Pointing the way forward, he highlighted positive activity surrounding licensed premises including the purple flag scheme being launched by the Civic Trust this year - which will see safe town and city centres recognised nationally.

Other positive initiatives included Best Bar None, the PASS proof-of-age accreditation scheme, and successful collaborations between the police and retailers in Cambridgeshire and Cardiff, he said.

What is National Pubwatch?

A wholly voluntary organisation, National Pubwatch supports existing Pubwatches, and encourages the creation of new Pubwatch schemes throughout the UK.

Through a regular newsletter and conferences it circulates best practice on running schemes, and hopes to encourage a good relationship between pubs, local authorities and the police.

National Pubwatch

Related topics: Property law, Other operators

Property of the week

The Hazeldene Hotel

- Tenancy

The Hazeldene Hotel is opposite the Famous Blacksmiths Shop in Gretna Green. With 11 letting rooms, it is in a prime location to offer fantastic...

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more