Red-tape plea, but no answers

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Red tape, License

Coulson: burden of bureaucracy
Coulson: burden of bureaucracy
I read last week with a wry smile of the licensee who pleaded in this paper for less red tape in his business, says Peter Coulson.

I read last week with a wry smile of the licensee who pleaded in this paper for less red tape in his business.

I remember claims by Government ministers in the run-up to the new Licensing Act that what they were providing was a simplification process. The revised laws represented, in their eyes, a form of deregulation, replacing scores of outdated rules with a new, inclusive licensing system that would suit everyone.

As I look back on everything that has happened since then, I cannot in all honesty support the view that life has got any simpler for those operating pubs. On the contrary,

this Government has considerably increased the number of rules and regulations with which pub landlords have to comply.

Deregulation does not consist of re-writing the statute book. It may be true that the number of licences has been reduced. But that does not mean that the individual licence-holder has less paperwork or restrictions to contend with. On the contrary, the actual number of people and organisations requiring licences or permissions has increased dramatically. And in tandem with that increase is a power for local government to impose even more conditions on operators than ever existed before.

There seems no doubt to me that what was taken as simply accepted in the past has now been turned into a rule or a condition. In certain cities, premises licences go on for pages, and they have special inspectors to call in at good times like 10.30pm on a Saturday night to check with you that every aspect of the licence is being complied with. If you complain, they just tell you it's their job.

But it is not only licensing that has created this additional burden. In our society's rush to ensure that every stone is turned, every possibility mentioned, every slip recorded, anyone running a pub business is required to sit at a desk for more hours a week than ever before. Two days late with a report or a return and you are automatically fined. You cannot appeal, because there are no excuses. Time is now of the essence.

Burden of bureaucracy

Of course, all traders and those who deal with the public now have these additional requirements. But the majority of them are not licensed and do not attract the regular attention of police and trading standards inspectors. There is no doubt that the burden of bureaucracy has never been higher, in spite of successive Governments trying to make us believe that they are actually reducing this unwanted mountain of paperwork and red tape.

A few years back, during its enquiry into community pubs, the All-Party Parliamentary Beer Group heard evidence that this compliance with regulation was one of the main concerns of licensees and that it was becoming overwhelming.

But will Governments listen? They pay lip service to the idea of deregulation, when it must be obvious that, rather like King Canute, they have demonstrated you cannot hold back the tide of rules, conditions and obligations produced by one Ministry after another.

The breadth of additional regulation and compliance requirements has now reached mountainous proportions. Hardly a day goes by that another statutory instrument or set of rules is not published.

It is nearly a full-time job for the licensed trade to keep up with this, so that they know exactly what is required by law.

That is not conducive to good business if you spend too much time ensuring that you are keeping to the rules and not enough on making sure your customers are happy and will return.

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