Paying lip service to pubs

By The PMA Team

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Licensing reform, Licensing act, License, The bill, Antisocial personality disorder

Charity: enough in Bill to worry trade
Charity: enough in Bill to worry trade
Worrying elements still remain in the revisions to the licensing reform, says The PMA Team.

The ConDem coalition published the revised proposals for its licensing reform last week — and there were a few victories for the trade.

Ten of the 24 proposals in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill were dropped and three modified. Among the significant concessions are the retention of pubs' right to appeal a licence revocation — and stay open awaiting the hearing of the appeal.

Similarly, a ludicrous requirement for licence applicants to prove they would not adversely affect their locale has been dropped. And local authorities will not get the freedom to set their own fee structure.

Nevertheless, there's a lot left in the Bill to worry anyone. The late-night levy proposal remains in place, albeit subject to local authorities needing to consult and adhere to the licensing objectives.

Essentially, this is a tax on pubs in town and city centres that stay open late. It is a counter-productive measure that stands to erase or weaken a key benefit of the 2003 Licensing Act. It will mean that fewer premises are likely to want to open later, raising the possibility that town and city-centre choke points will arise again.

The same number of customers will be funnelled through a smaller number of premises, creating the concentration of bodies that can lead to behaviour problems.

The nightclub sector will be quietly very pleased indeed because it's a step back towards the creation of restricted supply that serves them well. All the evidence points towards a calming down of city and town centres in the past five years as increased late-night supply has led to a fragmentation of customer groups.

We haven't, of course, seen the arrival of full-blown café culture, but there are obvious and beneficial changes in customer behaviour because there are more late-night options (and cheap off-trade booze aplenty to consume at home).

The Government's mindset was only too clear when it published the Bill last week. Minister James Brokenshire attended the Morning Advertiser's Responsible Drinks Retailing conference last month to praise the multifaceted partnership work undertaken by the trade and local stakeholders in managing the late-night economy.

Last week, though, he was showing his true colours: "The introduction of 24-hour licensing promised a Continental-style café culture, which has not yet materialised. Instead we see drunkenness, violence and antisocial behaviour and too many of our town and city centres are now considered 'no go' areas." His remarks could have been written for him by a Daily Mail leader writer.

It seems that the Government is happy to peddle the 24-hour myth no matter how many times it is rebutted — the 2003 Licensing Act led to the average pub adding just 27 minutes to its trading time.

The trade has now been subject to two visitations of red tape from Government addicted to sweeping legislation while paying lip service to the pragmatic, localist approach.

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