Memorandum submitted by Steve Cox, Principal Safety & Licensing Officer, Environmental Health & Consumer Protection, Torbay Council

 

I am writing to respond to the request for views on the above enquiry. I am the principal Safety and Licensing Officer, which means I am responsible for the team that manages the Licensing Act 2003 at Torbay Council.

The two points where I feel I can be of assistance are as follows

 

Whether the Act has led, or looks likely to lead, to a reduction in bureaucracy for those applying for licences under the new regime and for those administering it;

 

Whether the anticipated financial savings for relevant industries will be realised.

 

To answer the first point, I feel that it has not resulted in a reduction in bureaucracy for Torbay Council, as the number of functions that it administers has increased. Originally it would have been responsible for public entertainment, cinemas, theatres and late night refreshment. These licensing functions covered a smaller range of activities, even excluding alcohol, than is now licensed by the Act. With alcohol being included that has resulted in significant additional work load for Torbay Council.

I believe the alcohol licensing work has increased overall, and now is more than originally administered by the Magistrate's Court. In the original regime under the Licensing Act 1964, the premises and individual were put on to one licence. Now there are two, one for the premises i.e. premises licence and one for the individual, i.e. personal licence. In addition to this is the requirement for a designated premises supervisor (DPS), which is an addition to the requirements under the Licensing Act 1964. Each time the DPS changes then another application has to be made, often at the same time as the premises licence is transferred to a new holder.

To add to the bureaucracy is the very prescriptive nature of the legislation, which means that the vast majority of individuals cannot understand the application form let alone complete it accurately. This has resulted in significant resources at Torbay Council being used to give advice and support. In practicable terms this is done through giving advice on the phone and at advice sessions in our reception area. It involves checking applications before they are submitted and afterwards, as well as preparing guidance etc on the completion of forms, which we provide on our website. This is far above the resources we receive i.e. the application fee, which for smaller businesses is 100.

At Torbay Council a minimum of five individual are employed to administer the process, starting with advice and administrative support, through the application process itself, and finally to administer hearings etc. This excludes legal support and the time I involve myself in the process as the team manager. In addition the Police Licensing team employs three people whose major workload is the Licensing Act.

On the second point of financial savings, I feel I am in a position to say that it is costing businesses a great deal more than previously. The cost of placing an advert in the paper costs nearly 300 in Torbay. If the business employs a solicitor, then along with the fee the cost can be as high as 800, so there is no incentive to vary their premises licence, or if they need or want to it is a high cost. It is important to note that a recent report it fees suggests that Licensing Authorities are 7% short on the fees they receive against costs.

This is not to say I have any quick solutions, though I do support the minor variation procedure, which I believe will lift a significant burden for applicants. This will provide them with a much simpler and cheaper option, providing they consult with the key responsible authorities beforehand, and don't expect changes as a right. Additionally I support the changes with respect to community centres and the ability to opt out of the requirement for a DPS. The impact of this, however, will be small as in Torbay this probably affects only one or two premises.

I trust you find the above views helpful.

 

August 2008