Memorandum submitted by Westminster City Council

 

Summary

Westminster City Council welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the DCMS Select Committee inquiry into the effects of the Licensing Act 2003. We intend to focus our submission on five elements of the inquiry - whether there has been any change in levels of public nuisance, numbers of night-time offences or perceptions of public safety since the Act came into force, levels of bureaucracy and the performance of live music.

Our headline statement is this: In Westminster alcohol crime is declining. This results from the strong enforcement of cumulative impact policies. However, there has been a degree of temporal displacement. Offences are now occurring later on, into the early hours of the morning. The fact that crimes are occurring in the early hours of the morning has serious implications; not only does it cost more in terms of policing requirements, but the human cost of disruption increases with the lateness of the hour. This is in the context of its longstanding, extensive, late night nightlife and its policy approach of not increasing the numbers of "alcohol led" premises or their hours beyond midnight in areas with identified problems of crime and disorder.

As regards bureaucracy, despite claims by DCMS that the Licensing Act is 'deregulatory', all evidence suggests that it has in fact led to an increased bureaucratic burden for both applicants and administrators.

Key Findings

 

Public Nuisance and Night Time Offences

 

Our analysis demonstrates that alcohol related crime and disorder is declining, this is because Westminster has adopted a strong policy approach to enforcement and is prepared to fund licensing services far beyond the level of funding by fees.

The essence of this policy is to restrict new licences in the cumulative impact areas to exceptional circumstances - normally away from drink-led uses - and to give only limited hours extensions, not past midnight in remaining areas.

Average numbers of offences per month have fallen by approximately 10% for both licensed premises-related offences, violent offences and late night violent offences.

Licensed premises-related offences now peak between 10pm and 11pm, whilst violent offences continue to peak between 2am and 3am.

Alcohol-related disorder (both by type and late night) has actually shown increases in numbers of incidents per month after the introduction of the Act.

Alcohol-related crime and disorder has seen temporal shifts towards the early hours of the morning.

 

 

 

Levels of Bureaucracy

 

Bureaucracy has significantly increased since the implementation of the Licensing Act.

The Act does not allow for local discretion regarding the processing of licence applications, which only adds to the administrative burden placed on Licensing Authorities.

Westminster is currently implementing electronic licensing in order to reduce the amount of time spent on processing applications, and to create a more streamlined and efficient system.

 

Night Time Offences

 

There has in general been a declining trend in licensed premises-related offences. Despite an increase in offences immediately post-introduction of the Act, offences have been in general below the mean for offences pre-introduction of the Act.

Since the implementation of the Licensing Act, there have been 1363 licensed premises-related offences per month. Prior to the introduction of the Act on the 24th November 2005 there were roughly 1409 offences per month (based on 20 months data) whilst post November 2005 this fell to 1346 offences per month (32 months data)[1].

 

Considering all violent offences since April 2004, there has been a decrease in violent offences following the introduction of the Act. There were on average 444.6 offences per month prior to the Act, but this fell to 383.5 after the Act, a reduction of 13.7%.

 

There has in general been a declining trend in licensed premises-related offences. Despite an increase in offences immediately post-introduction of the Act, offences have been in general below the mean for offences pre-introduction of the Act.

 

It is worth noting that a number of alcohol-related incidents may not be directly linked to licensed premises but take place in the street. This may especially be the case in terms of violent offences.

 

Westminster has achieved the reductions in alcohol related crime and disorder by working closely with the Metropolitan Police who have changed their shift patterns to better cover the late night period and have mounted a number of operations and initiatives aimed at alcohol related and violent crime . This has resulted in a number of large drink-led premises in the heart of the West End being closed following review or changed to non-drink led use.

 

The City Council has developed strong partnership with the Metropolitan Police Licensing Teams co-located in City Hall and a process of targeted risk-based enforcement. These have led to jointly tasked approaches to problem premises giving rise to crime, disorder or nuisance incidents. This involves pro-active work to improve practice. On occasion, when this process fails, it has led to review and prosecution).

 

Westminster is committed to sustaining these successes, but without more legislative flexibility in the form of local fee setting and further changes to the guidance and regulation which would live up to local government's place shaping role, important work to reduce crime in central London is at risk.

 

Alcohol Related Disorder

 

Analysis of alcohol-related disorder levels between April 2004 and June 2006 shows huge variations. The average number of offences has actually increased, from 282.8 per month before the Act to 294.8 after (an increase of 4.2%). However because of the high variance it would be difficult to assess whether this was an accurate picture of alcohol-related disorder. Other factors may have caused the substantial increase and subsequent decrease in disorder, for example the greater focus on licensing enforcement.

 

Over the whole period there is a small downwards trend in alcohol-related disorder, though to make a more accurate judgement of alcohol-related disorder it is necessary to focus on specific time periods as we have done for violent offences.

 

Looking at disorder between midnight and 4am may help to give a more accurate picture of alcohol-related disorder. For example, we do not know if the street drinking code is used purely for our resident street drinkers or is also used for general street drinking-related disorder.

 

By looking at this type of disorder late at night we are likely to exclude the street drinking population but include other types of alcohol-related disorder that have been marked as street drinking. Rowdy and Inconsiderate Behaviour is also included as between midnight and 4am this type of disorder is highly likely to be alcohol-related and will help provide further help in assessing the extent of street-drinking before and after the Act.

 

There has been an even larger increase in late night alcohol-related disorder than overall alcohol disorder, with disorder incidents per month increasing by 21.2% (from 251.6 to 305). Again this is because of the large variation in incident levels from month to month. It is worth noting that most of the increase in late night disorder occurred prior to the introduction of the Act and that late night disorder has generally remained static since.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perception

 

Facts and figures cannot provide the full picture of alcohol-related crime and disorder and public perception is key to helping us understand the full extent of alcohol-related crime and disorder before and after the 2003 Licensing Act came into force.

 

The City Survey only asks questions of people's perception of alcohol disorder from 2006/7 onwards (though over the last two years perception of this being a problem has remained static).

 

The CivicWatch Survey shows that perception of 'people being drunk and rowdy in public places' has increased slightly since 2004/5 when 18.9% of people put this issue amongst there top two or three concerns.

 

Perception of this issue as a problem increased to 19.9% in 05/06 and then 22% in 06/07. However a slight reduction to 21% occurred in 07/08 and current 08/09 figures (after two waves) show the year to date figures at 20%. Overall though there has been a gradual increasing trend in perception of the issue as a problem. Though whether this relates to the Licensing Act or other factors such as wider media reporting affecting public perception cannot be established definitively.

Bureaucracy

Despite claims by DCMS that the Licensing Act 'deregulatory', all evidence suggests that it has in fact led to increased bureaucracy for both applicants and administrators.

In order to apply for a licence, an applicant is required to provide 8 copies of application form, and 8 sets of plans. There is a significant administrative burden associated with this. The costs of processing applications far outweigh the cost of an application.

 

Below is a selection of examples where unnecessary bureaucracy hampers our ability to quickly process applications:

Applicants are required to get prior approval in writing for a change of plan.

The Licensing Act does not allow us to properly correct applications. If an applicant makes a small mistake, this technically renders the application invalid, requiring the applicant to start the process again.

There is nothing in the Act that allows Licensing Authorities to apply discretion. We feel that a 'slip rule' would make a tangible improvement to processing of applications, and would significantly reduce levels of bureaucracy.

 

In order to reduce levels of bureaucracy, Westminster City Council is currently testing electronic licensing. Our review of the licensing process identified 122 000 per annum projected savings through the implementation of online systems.

 

 

 

The performance of live music

 

Westminster is aware of concerns relating to the effect of the 2003 Act on the provision of live music.

 

The experience in Westminster is that the 2003 Act, in comparison with previous regimes, does not restrict the provision of live music in the course of promoting the licensing objectives. On the conversion and variation of licences when the new regime was first introduced, variations by pubs to retain the effect of the "2 in a bar" rule were granted in virtually all cases.

 

However, we are of the view that the provisions of section 177 of the Act, which seek to give some exemption for smaller venues from licence conditions in certain circumstances, are extremely tortuous, little understood by the licensed trade, and are largely irrelevant in promoting live music.

 

Notwithstanding that ad hoc live music events in smaller premises can be authorised by existing Temporary Event notices if two weeks notice is given, and more regular events by a premises licence, we would welcome the opportunity to comment on any proposals to replace section 177 with provisions which permitted unamplified music in small premises licensed for the sale of alcohol but not musical entertainment.

 

We believe that the licensing of public entertainment has led to an exemplary record in terms of public safety, and allows direct control of public nuisance and crime and disorder. Exemptions from licensing should only be considered in exceptional cases taking into account the risks which may be associated with the failure to promote the licensing objectives. For this reason, we believe no venue or event should be exempted from the requirement to be licensed for musical entertainment if it is unlicensed for the sale of alcohol, or provides for an audience greater than 100, or uses amplified musical instruments, or is provided outside a building.

 

Where any exemption from the requirement to be licensed for musical entertainment is permitted, the premises should remain subject to review procedures in the 2003 Act, and the licensing authority able to remove the exemption by modifying licence conditions.

September 2008

 

 



[1] Please note that the month of November 2005 is completely included in the data prior to the introduction of the Act.