Paul Smith: "Oldham's blanket review is neither proportianate or reasonable

Related tags Licensed premises Business improvement district

On my travels over recent weeks one topic of conversation has cropped up a great deal: Oldham. Both the operators and the statutory bodies are...

On my travels over recent weeks one topic of conversation has cropped up a great deal: Oldham. Both the operators and the statutory bodies are watching closely to see how this situation will play out.

Clearly what has been suggested by Oldham Council (by taking 22 premises to review) goes way above and beyond anything which has been attempted previously. We argued vociferously at our meeting with the council that it hard to see how such an action is proportionate or reasonable - or indeed targeted - as the Licensing Act dictates.

What is also a little embarrassing for the Council is their own licensing policy states (p16, item 12.22) "The authority will not use the Licensing Policy to control prices or hinder free and fair competition in licensed premises." We brought this point up when speaking to the council when we met, arguing that by penalising any premise which falls below a certain price point per unit (75p) there is either an actual (or defacto) attempt to control prices.

At the same meeting we also put the case that it would be better for all concerned to have a mediated solution by establishing a Best Bar None, leading possibly to a Business Improvement District - i.e. thereby creating an environment which enhances not demonises Oldham.

As well as the Oldham situation, like others in the trade, at Noctis we've also been going over the mandatory conditions consultation - just launched by the Home Office. On first glance it looks as if - even in this new, "improved" version, there is a major question at the heart of this whole process: why do it? No one seriously thinks that forcing a series of conditions on all licensed premises will work. I suspect that even the officials know that this is purely a box-ticking exercise.

Box-ticking or not, the issues are very serious indeed for our industry. How we are perceived to the outside world has to be key to the future success (or otherwise). Suddenly we are in a world where perception is everything. As I write, we only have to see the storm over MPs expenses causing a swift shake-up of the system to see the media's profound influence. In the fallout to this debacle we have to get this government and its possible successor to recognise that we as an industry have, over recent years, consistently played fair and need support - not more needless regulation.

Paul Smith is executive director of late-night operator trade group Noctis

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