Memorandum submitted by Milton Keynes Council

 

On behalf of Milton Keynes Council, please find below our submission to the Select Committee in respect of the effects of the Licensing Act 2003. Paragraphs have been numbered, for your own reference, but please do not hesitate to contact us if you require additional information or clarification is required.

 

Change on levels of public nuisance, perceptions of public safety etc

 

1.1 This authority can give no substantive evidence on the perception of public safety since the Act came in but in respect of public nuisance the representations we receive on applications suggest that residents close to and on traffic routes leading from licensed premises are suffering public nuisance problems specifically from patrons but also from noise from entertainment originating from existing licensed premises. The effect of the Act appears to have prolonged the period during which people are disturbed later into the night. A large number of our licensed premises now trade for at least an additional hour and our clubbing venues generally close about 3am.

 

 

Impact of the Act on the performance of Live Music

 

1.2 This authority has now licensed far more venues for live music than was the case under the previous Public Entertainment Licence regime

 

 

Financial impact of the Act on sporting and social clubs

 

1.3 This authority has no information on this matter although two premises with Club Premises Certificates have had to close / gone into receivership out of a total of 54 since the Act was introduced.

 

 

Reduction in bureaucracy etc

 

1.4 In our opinion the new system is contributing to a reduction in bureaucracy particularly in regard to transfer and premises supervisor applications as the applicant no longer has to attend Court on a number of occasions. The same is true of Temporary Event Notices as these have replaced the occasional permission system which also could involve Court attendance.

 

 

 

 

 

Other areas of interest

 

Reviews

 

1.5 The experience of this authority is that the review process is not working fully as anticipated by the Licensing Act. A number of residents are being affected by problems from licensed premises and in some cases are finding the review process too daunting to enter into. Where we have had residents initiate reviews, the process can be quite pressured as the seriousness of the matter becomes apparent. Residents are also put off of the review process by the need to serve so many copies of their application to responsible authorities.

It is the opinion of this authority that the licensing system in place is not preventing public nuisance issues, especially at night, from patrons in and around a venue causing low-level and anti social behaviour and general noise nuisance.

 

 

Enforcement

 

1.6 This Authority has taken a number of prosecutions under the Licensing Act for breaches of premises licenses issued, but in our experience the Magistrates Court are not taking action against a personal licence holder, who has committed a relevant offence, possibly because this is seen to be punishing an offender twice for the same issue. For instance we have one individual who has now two relevant convictions (assault / battery and breach of two premises licence conditions) who has been allowed to retain his personal licence

 

1.7 The experience of this authority is that certain sectors of the licensed trade and in particular public houses generally seem unaware of the need to comply with conditions on their licence. This is despite the fact that they are reminded to do so by our colleagues in Thames Valley Police whenever new licence holders take charge of a venue. This authority has fairly frequent problems with designated premises supervisors leaving venues and not being replaced, despite this being a mandatory condition on all licences selling alcohol. The issue of Designated Premises Supervisors and their actual role at premises remains unclear in practice and is thus at times difficult to enforce in practice as a mandatory condition.

 

1.8 This authority is encountering some non co-operation from certain sectors of the fuel trade in respect of Section 176 of the Act and primary use of fuel stations that are licensed to supply alcohol.

 

1.9 The licensing authority accepts its role as being neutral on applications made, but it would have been better if the primary legislation allowed for officers of the licensing authority to call for a review once a licence had been issued, for example concerning non-compliance with conditions on a licence or where other issues arise, for example when dealing with the legitimacy of company's holding licences. The current regime only allows a licensing authority to prosecute for non-compliance with conditions, but this can take some time to complete and it does not necessarily ensure that conditions are complied with or, more importantly, that the licensing objectives are adequately promoted. Based on the current level of fines we are encountering, it is not necessarily an effective deterrent either.

 

1.10 Experience of this authority is that our Police partners are reluctant to prosecute for offences committed under the Licensing Act and therefore one arm of enforcement is not being used.

 

1.11 Experience of this authority is that a number of responsible authorities do not see the point in engaging in the licensing process as they have their own powers to deal with issues arising at licensed premises e.g. the Planning Authority, the Area Child Protection Committee (Local Safeguarding Childrens' Board) and following the Regulatory Reform Order, the Fire Authority.

 

 

 

 

Personal Licence Holders

 

1.12 There is a major flaw in the system of personal licence holders as there is no effective way of keeping track of individuals once they move address. It is suspected that a large number of our personal licence holders will lose their licence in 2014/2015 as many people will move house and not notify their "home" authority. They will therefore miss their renewal date when their current licence expires. The bulk of this is likely to happen in 2014/2015, 10 years after the original bulk of transitional applications were dealt with.

 

1.13 This authority has recently dealt with a case where an application for a personal licence was objected to by the Police. At the subsequent hearing it became apparent that the DCMS Guidance suggests prejudice towards non-grant whereas the primary Legislation allows for consideration of the licensing objectives to permit grant. The guidance and the legislation therefore appear at odds with each other

 

 

Problems on Offences Committed

 

1.13 Currently, there is no national compulsory system of recording the issuing of formal cautions to individuals. This matter is important to partner agencies such as Thames Valley Police when considering when a person is suitable to be, for instance, a designated premise supervisor at a public house. The lack of a coordinated national system means there is no way that the police are able to check on whether someone has previously been cautioned for relevant offences under the Licensing Act. Although the Office of Fair Trading encourage authorities to register formal cautions with them this is not a compulsory system and not something the Police have access too.

 

1.14 It is expected that persons who are being convicted of relevant offences in the Courts (for example drink driving), are not declaring that they are a personal licence holder, to the Court. Why would they want to? As a result, the Magistrates are not able to consider whether someone's personal licence should be suspended etc, and they are not able to notify the licensing authority of relevant convictions. It would appear that the current system in place for personal licences is only effective as an assessment of a person's suitability for a personal licence when they initially apply. There appears to be no effective system in place between the courts and the licensing authority to measure when individuals have been convicted of relevant offences.

 

 

Temporary Event Notices

 

1.15 This authority does experience nuisance problems with TENs. The restriction of crime and disorder as the only consideration to be given means that the only way of dealing with nuisance problems arising tends to be on a reactive basis which at best can often be too late to prevent disturbance to residents. It would also be beneficial if the application form required submission of a plan where the area to be authorised is an outside area (for example part of a carnival etc) so that it was clear which part of a field etc was to be licensed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ongoing Matters

 

1.16 One of the implications of introducing the new system in the rushed manner it was is that some of the key stakeholders were not properly trained or guided in what they could and couldn't do. The shortcomings of the Act are well known to all in the licensed trade and this in turn has led to several revisions of the statutory guidance already in addition to changes now to the primary legislation. What is less well documented is that most licenses were granted in perpetuity in 2005 when Responsible Authorities were either not really up to speed on their role or didn't have the time to consider applications properly. As such many licenses were granted without comprehensive consideration of the licensing objectives and this is storing up problems both now and in the future in respect of the promotion of licensing objectives. The lack of the renewal system on licences although understandable as a reduction in bureaucracy means the only balance and check system in place is the review process which in our view is not yet working as intended. The thrust in the guidance to avoid duplication with other legislative powers (for example Health and Safety and Fire Safety) although laudable assumes that businesses have procedures and processes in place to comply with these matters and that enforcement authorities are concentrating on these areas. Sadly this is not necessarily the case in either regard.

 

1.17 This authority does understand the need for 'test cases' to build up a working definition in respect of interpretation of the Licensing Act. Unfortunately the lack of definitive case law at present is in itself a deterrent to enforcement action as a costly appeal to get a High Court judgement is not something Authorities in the main wish to enter into due to the strains on the public purse. This in turn means enforcement issues such as whether something is 'background music or not' or whether 'the DPS can be considered to be supervising alcohol sales or not' remain very difficult to deal with.

 

 

September 2008