Licensees must fight back

By Paul Chase

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensing act License

Chase: time to challenge the proposed licensing reform plans
Chase: time to challenge the proposed licensing reform plans
The proposal to rebalance the Licensing Act is a seminal moment for the on-trade, argues Paul Chase.

You can only take it on the chin for so long. Then there comes a moment when you either sink to your knees, or you bounce back off the ropes and come out fighting. This is such a moment.

The Coalition Government describes its licensing reform proposals as "Rebalancing the Licensing Act", when in fact they do no such thing. They are, quite straightforwardly, an attack. Make no mistake about it, they are having a go at us.

Taken together, these reforms are a major assault on the Licensing Act and the trade, not a "rebalancing". Ending the requirement to "show vicinity" when making objections, for example, opens the door for anti-alcohol campaigners to orchestrate objections on a free-for-all basis.

How has it come to this?

We are in this position because we failed to recognise the nature of

the threat, and we failed to defend the 2003 Licensing Act against its detractors.

The Coalition Government's reform proposals, and its decision to move licensing back to the Home Office, are a stepped change, and represent the realisation of the medical temperance agenda. We should have seen this coming and reacted earlier. We should have realised that the remorseless attacks on "Binge Britain", the alcohol scare-stories in the Daily Mail and the Orwellian misuse of statistics by medical temperance has contrived to create a political climate in which government thinks there's a "quick win" in bashing the licensed trade.

How do we fight back?

Time is not on our side. Legislation will begin soon. We need a campaign that will make a big impact in a short time. A number of key factors need to be in place. The first is leadership. In 1908, when the industry was faced with nationalisation, a uniquely broad-based organisation called the National Trade Defence Association was formed. They called a mass demonstration in Hyde Park which was attended by over 250,000 people. Once again, we need the leaders of the industry's representative bodies to unite and speak with one voice.

I am heartened by the ALMR's approach, which seems coherent and has simple, hard-hitting messages. I have read that the BBPA

are holding meetings at the Home Office, and are imploring licensees

to contact their MPs. Someone

needs to get this in their grip. And we need a champion, a well-known public figure who will front the campaign for us in the media. Look what Joanna Lumley achieved on behalf of the Ghurkhas!

The second key factor: we need allies — particularly in the media. For the past six years, a debate has raged about alcohol and its impact on society. The health lobby built up a constituency of support for their views by accessing media coverage — most notably in the Daily Mail. The medical temperance view of alcohol is now the government's view because we didn't participate in the debate — we didn't take them on!

A view frequently expressed to me in the past was that we shouldn't engage in an unseemly tabloid catfight; discreet, dignified lobbying of politicians is what we do. Well, we're paying the price now for being just a tad too precious. Lobbying is important, but as a stand-alone strategy it has run out of road; we need a proper PR strategy that involves getting at least one tabloid paper on our side.

The third key factor is resources. Nick Bish and the ALMR have kicked off the fight-back with a pump-priming £30,000, and have gained pubco signatories for a letter sent to seven cabinet ministers. It's a good start, but we need much, much more. We need to put a level of resources behind this campaign that can only be provided by the industry's big players. In the 1908 campaign the National Trade Defence League included the Brewers Society, the Licensed Victuallers' Protection Society, the Victuallers' Defence League and the Wine and Spirits Association, among others.

Broaden it out!

The nanny-state nature of the reforms, the denial of civil liberties implied by the proposal to end any meaningful right of appeal, "requirements" for licensing authorities to accept police recommendations, the end of evidence-based decision making; all these things resonate far beyond the licensed trade. They are an attack on a community asset, the pub, and on the community of licensees whose place of business is also their family home.

So this is a seminal moment. If we simply accept the prevailing agenda, meekly give in to these proposals, or mount only a token fight-back, this industry will be defeated and damaged, the progressive changes brought in by the Licensing Act will be reversed, and many individual licensees will end up victimised.

We need a campaign that recognises the scale of the threat. We need unified leadership. Who will step up to the plate?

Paul Chase is compliance director for CPL Training.

Related topics Other operators

Property of the week


£ 60,000 - Leasehold

Busy location on coastal main road Extensively renovated detached public house Five trade areas (100)  Sizeable refurbished 4-5 bedroom accommodation Newly created beer garden (125) Established and popular business...

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more