PM 1 — Bureaucrats 0

By Rob Willock

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags World cup Lib dem mp License

David Cameron himself “ordered a rethink”
David Cameron himself “ordered a rethink”
I’d just finished putting the finishing touches to a scathing comment piece criticising the Home Office for its decision not to grant a national licence extension for pubs during the World Cup.

And I’d accepted an invitation to appear on TalkSport radio to explain what a missed opportunity this was for thousands of publicans and millions of football fans.

England’s first game of the campaign is against Italy at 11pm on 14 June, meaning that televised coverage of the match will run until around 1am — beyond the normal licensed hours of most pubs.

Our industry, via the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), had asked for serving times to be extended automatically on two weekends (the first and last of the tournament in Brazil) this summer — the same concession that was granted for the Royal Wedding and Diamond Jubilee in 2011 and 2012 respectively.

'No plans'

But Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker, Lib Dem MP for Lewes, said the Government had “no plans” to repeat the move, adding: “It is our normal practice to only extend licensing hours under the Licensing Act 2003 in exceptional circumstances, usually for one-off events.”

Many, including yours truly, took to social media to argue that England’s qualification for a World Cup is an exceptional event — certainly not one that can be taken for granted.

Public apologists for the Home Office’s decision seemed to be few and far between, and those that did attempt to justify it flip-flopped unconvincingly between public interest and public safety arguments. But precedent had been set with those recent stately celebrations, and those who sought to suggest that football is any less popular than her Majesty were disabused of that notion by statistics showing that the BBC TV audience for the Diamond Jubilee peaked at 17 million; whereas the for England v Germany in the 2010 World Cup the figure was 19.5 million.

Licensing objectives

And those who pontificated that licensing objectives required any pub seeking a late licence for the big match should apply for a temporary event notice (TEN) looked badly out of touch with a government that has worked hard on cultivating a business-friendly and red-tape-busting reputation.

If, at a conservative estimate, 25,000 licensed venues had to submit a TEN application for just one World Cup hours extension — that would be £525,000 in unnecessary costs and hours of paperwork. And those pubs would have needed to serve more than half a million pints just to recoup this unnecessary outlay.

Well — that was the basis of my justifiably angry leader article, and it had just gone across to the sub-editors’ desk, when suddenly it emerged that the Prime Minister had personally intervened and reversed the announcement made just 24 hours earlier.

Cameron rethink

David Cameron himself “ordered a rethink” and promised his government would consult with the pub industry, police and councils on the best way to make sure pubs can be open for the Italy game at 11pm.

And with that, the PM heroically hoicked off the line the seemingly inevitable own-goal about to be scored by one of his ministers, and at the same time ruined my editorial and national radio appearance.

I suppose I shouldn’t really complain.

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