Memorandum submitted by Philip Doyle

 

I am a licensing consultant with over ten years experience of working in the field and make this submission in that role. I operate a small limited company which provides training and consultancy to local authorities, and also to licensed operators. My clients include Peter Stringfellow. I previously worked in the licensing service of Westminster Council and held most of the senior managerial positions in the biggest licensing authority in the country. I was the lead officer responsible for developing the council's policy under the Licensing Act 2003 and for the appeals to the courts arising from decisions by the licensing committee. I gave evidence to the Parliamentary Select Committee which considered the Licensing Bill just before it was enacted, in my role as a director of the Institute of Licensing. I am the chairman of the London region of the Institute. I am a lecturer in licensing law at the law school of Westminster University. I previously had a 30 year police career and retired from the service having served as the divisional commander of a London Borough.

 

Evidence

 

The essential point in my evidence to the committee is that the concerns expressed by myself and others before the experience of operating the Licensing Act 2003 have now been found to be largely misplaced. Licensing Authorities have taken a little while to adjust to the new law and to their new responsibilities, but the majority have now done so. There are some problems but they are relatively small, in my view, when considered against the difficulties with the previous legislation that the new Act has overcome. Overall, the new legislation is better for operators and better for those that may be affected by licensed operations.

 

The new Act is an improvement over the myriad of legislation that applied previously because:

 

It has moved the responsibility for licensing decisions to local democratically elected councils who are responsible to their electorate for their decisions. The Act allows either applicants or objectors to appeal to the local Magistrates Court if they are not satisfied with a decision.

 

An operator who wishes to open a pub or club or restaurant has to make only one application, on one form, to one authority. The claim that the new Act is unnecessarily bureaucratic and the forms too complicated must be balanced against the fact that an operator previously would often be required to make a number of different applications to different bodies in order to operate in the way that they wanted.

 

The new Act gives local people the power to object to licence applications in a way that did not happen previously. If there is a weakness with regard to the right to object, it is that the requirement to advertise applications in a local newspaper is expensive and in many cases not effective at keeping local people informed. Westminster council have maintained their practice of circulating a short notice to people living in the immediate vicinity to alert them to the fact that an application has been made and where they can find further details. They have also provided arms length advice to objectors and to applicants through the Citizens Advice Bureau, by way of funding a part time post for this purpose. This is good practice which could be copied by other authorities.

 

Local people can also make application to the council for a licence to be 'reviewed' if they are experiencing problems with particular premises. An application for review can also be made by the police or the environmental health service of a local authority if they have concerns. A council can revoke, suspend or amend a licence in response, where they are satisfied that there is a genuine problem. This power did not exist previously and it should be kept in mind that any change which moves a category of licensing out of the Licensing Act and under the umbrella of another existing would mean that the power of review would be lost.

 

Since taking up my role as a licensing consultant, and through my work with the Institute of Licensing, it is apparent that there remain a significant minority of councils where the powers to object to licence applications, to impose conditions on licences that are granted, and to review licences, are not fully understood, and therefore, not used effectively in the way that parliament intended. The reason is simply that small authorities do not have a legal department sufficiently large to support a specialist licensing lawyer. Some misunderstandings have become embedded in the beliefs of some authorities. For example I am aware of some who do not appreciate that council officers with responsibility for environmental health matters can make representations about licence applications, where they have concerns about public nuisance.

 

The recent survey carried out by the Home Office to seek the views of local authorities about their powers to determine lap dancing applications provides evidence that the majority understand their powers and are ready to use them. Certain of the London Boroughs are good examples. Others are calling for a change to the law, and it is my firm belief that they are doing so only because they are either not fully aware of the powers they already have, or because they are unwilling to use them, perhaps as the result of mistaken legal advice.

 

Whilst there are strong powers to control existing lap dancing clubs, there is some merit in the view that restricting the number of new clubs being opened might best be achieved by creating a sui generis use class for lap dancing, in the same way that a special use class has been created for casinos. It is my firm belief that shifting the licensing of lap dancing clubs under the umbrella of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions Act) Act 1982 would create at least as many problems as it solves. That view is based upon experience of using the Act in Westminster. The potential unintended consequences include more locations having nudity rather than less - operators may make use of their premises licence to allow dancing, and the 'significant degree' provision to allow nudity for a short period on certain days of the week.

 

The Institute of Licensing works hard to provide training and information to licensing officers, to lawyers and to all professionals who are involved in licensing both within and outside of local licensing authorities. Not all such authorities are members of the Institute and we are aware of reluctance on the part of a small number of authorities to support their officers in membership of their professional body.

 

Few authorities make use of consultants such as myself with specialist licensing knowledge to provide training or support for their licensing service. They rely instead on in house training which can sometimes have the effect of reinforcing mistaken beliefs.

 

The Department of Culture Media and Sport could do more to encourage licensing authorities to make full use of the advantages that arise from membership of the Institute of Licensing and to recognise that value that may be obtained from seeking help from a licensing specialist in any cases of doubt or difficulty, and to provide external training for their staff.

 

With respect to the impact that the new Act has had on disorder in city centre late at night, there is no clear evidence that it has increased or decreased, only that in some cases such disorder as there is has been pushed later into the night. There is clear evidence that the most significant variables affecting the amount of alcohol consumed are price and availability. The cheapest alcohol is available either in supermarkets or in bars which offer 'two for the price of one' or similar usually in the early evening, not during the extended hours which may have arisen as the result of an application under the Licensing Act 2003.

 

November 2008