Memorandum submitted by the British Resorts and Destinations Association

 

1. Introduction. The British Resorts and Destinations Association (BRADA) represents the tourism and visitor economy interests of 60 local authorities in the UK. The majority are coastal and, within the membership, we have the bulk of the UK's traditional seaside resort towns. It is, therefore, from a local authority, tourism and, largely, but not exclusively, traditional coastal resort perspective that we comment. Background on BRADA and its membership can be accessed at www.britishresorts.co.uk.

 

2. We do not wish to make comment on the issues of live music or on social and sporting clubs, which are beyond our area of immediate expertise. Nor do we wish to give detailed technical observations on the other questions raised. We do, however, wish to make a number of overarching observations which, we hope, may be of some assistance in putting the technical questions in their wider practical context.

 

3. Background. The Association broadly supported the introduction of the Licensing Act 2003. In our view, it would bring greater flexibility and with it public and business benefit aiding domestic tourism interests or, more accurately, the wider visitor economy (locals and visitors) of most resort towns and popular destinations. It would also bring similar benefits to other towns and non-traditional destinations. During the pre and post introductory consultation process we shared a number of concerns with other similar representative bodies. These included:

 

ˇ The proportionally higher licensing cost for businesses with very low alcohol sales.

ˇ The disproportionately high cost for businesses with very high rateable values, but limited dependence on alcohol sales as the primary activity.

ˇ The high cost of temporary event licenses.

ˇ The impact of licensing on small community events and venues.

 

4. The Elton Review of 2006 made a number of sensible recommendations in respect of these and other areas. Unfortunately, other than in the area of community buildings, little progress appears to have been made. We would suggest that the Committee might like to look at the detail of the Elton Review and seek to establish which recommendations have not been progressed and why. These issues and their resolution we feel may, in part, answer some of your questions relating to bureaucratic burden and cost implications.


 

5. Having looked at the current state of play, we get a sense that there is a public perception that the Act may not have achieved the aspiration to reduce nuisance and antisocial behaviour associated with the activities of the night-time economy and, in particular, the late night pubs and clubs elements within it. In some circles there are suggestions that "things have got worse, rather than better". On balance we do not think that the available quantitative or qualitative evidence supports this claim and certainly not to anything other than the most superficial level. Our submission, therefore, seeks to point out some of the wider contextual issues, but does not necessarily try to give the answer to them.

 

6. The issues. While researching details for this submission we were struck by the limited nature of the quantitative evidence available and an apparent one dimensional analysis used by some to produce conclusions in respect of the impact of the Licensing Act 2003 and the (late) night-time economy within it. Empirical evidence suggests to us that the public perception, almost certainly fuelled by popular media reporting, is not in line with the reality in the majority of places, for the majority of the time. We also feel that both the perception and realities are often being viewed out of context. For example, there are, it would seem, a number of real and perceived issues relating to excessive consumption of alcohol and the associated antisocial behaviour of all types apparently connected to it. However, a good deal of this is linked directly to consumption of cheap alcohol in the home, to off-license sales and to a growth in the trend toward underage drinking and of binge drinking among young and, increasingly, older adults. These major cultural and social trends cannot reasonably be attributed solely to the Licensing Act 2003, if at all.

 

7. Some of those problems of changing culture and social attitude do get carried forward into the night-time economy, but not necessarily into the pubs and clubs, that as a direct consequence of the Act, are now having to manage both their businesses and their clientele more responsibly. Yes, there is drunkenness, violence and antisocial behaviour associated with alcohol consumption. Unfortunately, there always has been and, to some degree, there always will be. We are not convinced it is now getting measurably better or worse, particularly as it relates directly to the pub and clubs trade. Nor are we convinced that if it was getting worse that this could be attributed to recent changes to the licensing law and late night opening alone.

 

8. In part we believe that there may have been an over optimistic assumption in some quarters that over night the Licensing Act 2003 might resolve many of the long-standing issues associated with night-time economy. Some look admiringly at the European café culture and hope, that by liberalising opening hours, to emulate it. On reflection, a better comparison might have been to look to some of the hot-spots of the European 18 to 30 holiday market. It is the person, what they believe is acceptable in the given circumstances, and how they are managed, and not the length of opening hours that sets the tone. Fortunately, the domestic market does not yet emulate the worst excesses of some popular European destinations and, with good management, a strong legal framework and will to enforce acceptable norms, it, hopefully, never will. However, exposure to a different culture, particularly surrounded largely by other British people, is bound to change the attitudes and adjust the accepted norms that they will attempt to apply at home. Licensing Law on its own cannot hope to moderate changing social attitudes and/or curtail an apparent degradation of accepted social norms, that is a much bigger task for Government and for society as a whole.


9. That said, in our view, the Licensing Act has been able to make a positive difference and is continuing to do more as enforcement agencies, the trade and, not forgetting the customers, get used to functioning in what is, in many respects, a radically altered environment. It is some years since the Act came into force, nonetheless, all parties are still learning how to best manage their night-time economies. There were no prescribed templates or established best practice when the new law was enacted and it was a new and novel scenario for the consumer. As a consequence, it has taken time to bed in and, arguably, many mistakes and ineffective decisions were made at the local level, which have then had to be corrected over time. Meanwhile, the process of refining local practices and the sharing of knowledge and best practice between areas continues to the point where we now sense that things are rapidly reaching a state of natural equilibrium.

 

10. In parallel, of course, popular perceptions of the impact of the legislation have been moulded largely by what has gone by in the troubled past and not necessarily by what is happening right now or what will happen in the future. In our view, there is still a real danger of reacting to what are almost certainly outdated perceptions at a time when the new order is still moving towards a steady state. That is not to say that corrective actions are not required, but there is a question regarding both timing and a degree of change that is actually needed.

 

11. Having suggested that all is largely well, there are still some very problematic issues. The reality is that the longer licensing hours have had a profound effect on behaviour patterns and on the spread and incidence of individual acts of antisocial behaviour. Later hours, where operated, have, for example, encouraged later starts to evenings out and, in some circles, reinforced the culture of drinking cut-price alcohol at home in anticipation. Many late night premises only operate late where there are sufficient customers not needing to go to work the next day. In many instances, even in some holiday resorts, that tends to focus peak activity onto the weekends and specific bank, and other core, holiday periods. Dealing with peaks and troughs, particularly if there is an element of uncertainty attached, creates some practical management issues that would not be there if the trade operated to a fixed 365 day a year pattern. In short it makes it easier to get it wrong or to be caught out. Undoubtedly, the later and staggered closing times have done much to remove the old mad 90-minute peak of the post closing time (11pm and 2am). It has also reduced many of the causes of friction, for example, the long fast-food or taxi queue. Critically, it has also created the potential for much better and closer management of fewer potentially volatile individuals at any one particular time or place.

 

12. The downside is that the reduced potential for trouble has been extended over much longer periods and it now needs to be effectively managed and, where necessary, controlled throughout much of the night over a less easily predicted and, thus, larger geographic area. This is a huge additional undertaking and has in itself significant impact on real and perceived incidents of antisocial behaviour. Is it better to have a noisy crowd outside your house for an hour, or a couple of drunks falling into your hotel corridor once at 2am, than to have an intermittent flow of noisy individuals passing by your house or returning to your hotel throughout the night? In these circumstances less really can seem to be more. Longer licensing hours make managing and controlling antisocial activity potentially easier because, in theory, it becomes less concentrated. What has yet to be properly addressed is the resources allocation and cultural attitudes that allows effective management to take place at any and every point throughout what the rest of the public might reasonably regard as the dead of night. The fact that the requirement will vary week to week, day by day, or evening to evening just makes the management of the management function that bit more difficult.


 

13. That management function clearly falls to the Police, it should also fall, in part, to local authorities, both as the licensing authority and, usually, as the destination management organisation. How do the Police and local authority enforcement officers, police an all night activity and at what cost or at what penalty to other services? Have local authority and other services, from street cleansing to accident and emergency services been adjusted yet to take into account the new reality? We are not sure what the global answer to these questions is, but we suspect that there will be wide local variation and still much room for both manoeuvre and for potential beneficial adjustment. Private sector businesses also need to adjust their practices to accommodate changed circumstances and not just among the providing businesses. For example, how many accommodation providers actively manage the potential consequences of the changes to the patterns of guest behaviour? Do hotels now have mechanisms to ensure that late night revellers who return to the hotel do not disturb other guests, or do they simply try to manage the consequences when guests are disturbed? In most cases, we suspect, it is still the latter.

 

14. While there are issues of cultural effect enforcement and working practices, there are far more cultural issues affecting the behaviour of the public or, more accurately, the consumer. Many of these cultural issues are largely without the direct scope of the Licensing Act, but by inference, affect it. For example, why is it that individuals apparently feel freer to behave in an antisocial manner or be violent when in drink. We know alcohol reduces inhibition, but that does not necessarily explain the apparent rise and acceptance of antisocial behaviour, for example, among younger women. There appears to be some underlying reduction in the thresholds of accepted social norms, which are then exposed to public scrutiny when individuals get drunk, i.e. alcohol simply creates a window through which to view changing (declining) social norms. Why in the UK have we apparently got a binge drinking culture? Why should deliberately getting very drunk be apparently more socially acceptable in Britain than elsewhere (or is it)? In short, if people did not get so drunk and then feel free to behave in an antisocial or aggressive fashion, the extension of licensing hours would not be seen as a potential problem. If this is the case, then it is not the licensing hours or the Licensing Act, but the underlying culture and lowering of accepted norms that need to be addressed. These norms probably go beyond attitudes to alcohol into areas like respect for others and the attitudes and respect for authority; areas that are part of the wider Government and not simply issues for DCMS.

 

15. Of course, within this there is a role for the Act to help limit licensing trade practices, which reinforce or play to those negative cultural areas. For example happy hours, the serving of large measures, stronger alcohol content, a move towards the consumption of spirits, drinking games and other incentives or promotions that encourage excessive consumption. That said, it is our Country and our culture and, thus, the responsibility for correcting perceived social ills lies with society as a whole and not just with the licensees of pubs and clubs. In particular, much more needs to be done around off-licence sales and the seeming flood of cheap alcohol and the promotion of its consumption, which would appear to be driven to a very large and worrying degree by some, if not all, of the larger supermarket chains. Statistics that show that more beer is now sold in supermarkets than in pubs are disturbing and demonstrates that, far from being the cause of all our alcohol related problems, many pubs (and clubs?) may actually be the victims of them themselves. The closure rates of traditional public houses certainly seems to testify to this theory.


 

16. Summary. We have taken this opportunity to try and make some very broad points, some of which may not have been made by us (or by others) had we attempted only to answer the specific questions your inquiry poses. In summary these are:

 

ˇ The Elton Review contains many excellent, but as yet unfulfilled, recommendations.

ˇ The wider social and/or cultural issues are very complex, the evidence base very narrow and there is a natural tendency by some to take that evidence and the issues out of their proper context.

ˇ Many of the perceived public order issues and problems do not relate directly to the Licensing Act 2003 or necessarily to longer licensing hours.

ˇ The late night pub and club trade is not the sole problem if, indeed, the problem at all.

ˇ The management of the new night-time economy has, not unreasonably, taken time to bed in. It is still in flux, but is now starting to approach a stable state.

ˇ Public perceptions tend to be based on past experience not current reality and thus knee jerk reaction should be avoided.

ˇ Longer opening hours have reduced the problematic peaks, but in doing so have spread smaller problems over both time and a less predictable and, thus, wider geographic area. In such circumstances less can seem to be far more.

ˇ Customer and trade management and enforcement are critical, but there are still resource and working culture issues to overcome.

ˇ Changing wider public social attitudes and culture as it relates to alcohol and behaviour needs to be addressed, this is probably way beyond the scope and capabilities of the Licensing Act 2003 and DCMS acting alone.

ˇ Off-licence and, in particular, supermarket sales, are key areas that need to be better understood and, if necessary, controlled.

ˇ The subject of your inquiry is a good example of a major, complex issue that needs to be addressed across Government and not just in isolation by DCMS and certainly not in isolation using the Licensing Act 2003 alone.

 

 

September 2008