Attending the Responsible Drinks Retailing Conference last week I was struck by the earnest attitude of all those involved in responding to the issues surrounding alcohol misuse and the management of the night-time economy.
The contrast between the tabloid rhetoric of 'binge Britain' and the genuine desire of all those present — licensed retail operators, police, councils and other stakeholders — to work together in partnership, could not have been more apparent.
However, this was not the only sense in which rhetoric and reality were in sharp contradiction.
Government minister James Brokenshire attended the conference and made a speech with lots of warm noises about how much he supported Challenge 21/25 and the PASS scheme, but had very little to say about the Government's unprecedented attack on the sector disingenuously entitled Rebalancing the Licensing Act.
He said he had "listened carefully to the industry's concerns" but he didn't tarry long to answer questions — a quick, warm, fuzzy speech in which he referred to the importance of 'localism' and 'flexibility' in the licensing system — and he was off!
I would have liked to ask him how getting rid of the need to 'show vicinity' when objecting to a premises licence application, and thereby opening the door to anyone, anywhere making an objection, was compatible with localism?
I would like to have asked how enabling the police to require a local licensing authority to accept any recommendation or condition they wish to impose at a licence review is consistent with flexibility.
And finally, how can he, as a democratic politician committed to the rule of law and the principle of fair and independent trials, possibly justify the proposal to deny an independent right of appeal to premises licence holders subject to adverse decisions?
Speaker after speaker at the conference emphasised that what really works in terms of managing the night-time economy, and delivering a safe environment, was all the stakeholders working in partnership with operators.
Getting operator buy-in is crucial to this partnership approach. How can this buy-in be maintained if operators lose confidence in the fairness of the licensing system?
How can such confidence be maintained if a system, that is actually well-balanced at the moment, is unbalanced by ill-considered licensing reforms which unfairly tilt the whole system in favour of activist groups, and give unprecedented, and unchallengeable power to the police?
The rhetoric of government is that the drinks' industry is part of the solution; the reality of government action is that we're the cause of the problem.
It's hard to believe in the sincerity of government when there is such a contrast between rhetoric and reality.
Paul Chase, Director and Head of UK Compliance, CPL Training