Memorandum submitted by Business in Sport and Leisure

 

 

Business In Sport and Leisure is an umbrella organisation that represents over one hundred private sector companies and organisations in the sport, leisure and hospitality industry. Its membership is comprised of a mixture of leisure operators, the large majority of whom operate a licensed bar or other licensable activity even where it is not their primary business. BISL's membership is presently in excess of a hundred and its members are valued either on the London Stock market or through private equity investment at in excess of 40billion.

 

BISL develops policy through six Working Groups and these comments are a result of deliberations by the liquor Licensing Working Group and shared with the membership as a whole.

Overview 

In 2000 the Government published the White Paper "Time for Reform: Proposals for the Modernisation of Our Licensing Laws" which set out a relaxation of the legislation on alcohol and entertainment licensing and was intended to reduce the burden of unnecessary regulation. Responsibility for the licensing of alcohol and gambling subsequently transferred to the DCMS and in 2003 the Licensing Act was passed. The then Secretary of State at the DCMS introduced the Act stating that it "would allow the responsible majority of people more freedom and choice about how they spend their leisure time and replace an out-of-date, mish-mash of legislation with a modern, accessible regime, responsive to the society it serves".

BISL welcomed this policy which it believed would bring not only an improved hospitality offer to local communities and the tourism market but increased opportunity for industry to respond to those markets. Unfortunately in practice much of the promise of freedom and flexibility has failed to materialise, with a progressive hardening in policy towards the licensed trade reflected in the three main revisions of the associated Guidance published since 2003.

 

I would also draw your attention to the report of the Better Regulation Commission on the Licensing Act published in 2006 which had six recommendations for the reduction in the administrative and cost burden. Whilst some of these issues have been addressed such as the relaxation of a specified scale for plans and more recently a consideration of the de minimis exemption, others still have not and remain a massive burden on the sector.

 

 

Premises Licenses

 

The application process for a premises license is now a significant administrative and cost burden on the industry; a former single sheet application has been replaced by a complex document of over 30 pages and in many cases has now required applicants to seek professional advice for submission. The production of multiple copies for circulation to responsible authorities, coupled with the need to provide not only local notices but also newspaper advertising has significantly added costs to the already increased fee level. All of these points were raised by the BRC Report in 2006 which recommended that it should be the outcome of informing the local community which does mean that is mandatory.

 

The absence of a slip rule has been a regular complaint from operators and licensing lawyers alike. Whilst some authorities have taken a more liberal approach to the process and allowed amendments to deal with minor errors during the application process, many more have applied the letter of the law with consequent real administrative and cost penalties on the applicant. This was typified recently by an applicant who had met all the correct requirements of an application, including newspaper advertising, but whose local notices issued on blue paper had faded in the sun. Only at the end of the statutory display period was the applicant informed that a completely new application with the additional costs of re advertising was therefore required.

 

The lack of consistency is also borne out in the treatment of minor variations where some authorities already apply an adhoc policy of just accepting a redrawn plan of the premises whilst others require the full variation application process. BISL welcomes the current proposal for a new minor variation process and hopes that it will be applied consistently to speed up changes to premises that are vital,in response often, to customer needs. Our members have always questioned however, why any variation procedure is required for alterations to a venue that will have no impact on the licensing objectives.

 

BISL is also pleased to note the present consideration within the department of a de minimis exemption for certain premises presently required by the Act to obtain a premises license, but would like to see the small bed and breakfast operator and the small voluntary sports club opening its bar perhaps just one night a week, added to the present list under consideration.

 

Statements of Licensing Policy

 

BISL has noted with concern the very wide variation in local authority statements of licensing policy on which it has been consulted over the past five years. In many cases the policies are quite rightly strictly confined to meeting the licensing objectives as laid out in the Act. However, others have endeavoured to introduce conditions well beyond the scope of the Act. Recent examples have been the pressure applied by authorities within the Thames Valley for conditions to require the use of polycarbonate containers, instead of glass, whilst elsewhere membership of Pubwatch has been required even where the Pubwatch scheme had closed down.

 

 

'Challenge 21 is becoming an industry norm as best practice but only in limited cases is it actually a condition on the premises license, breach of which becomes a licensing offence. BISL is aware of a London borough where the licensing authority are seeking to ensure that all premises within their area operate a Challenge 21 policy and to this end are asking all premises licence holders to sign a contract to this effect. The contract recites that its purpose is to assist in the promotion of the licensing objectives and retailing alcohol in a responsible manner and sets out various obligations on the part of the licence holder. It also goes on to require that in the event of breach, the contract may be renegotiated; a review may be initiated or other legal action may follow, whilst the covering letter suggests that by entering into the contract, a possible review (the grounds for which appear to be wholly unsubstantiated) might be avoided.

 

BISL is particularly concerned about these emerging conditions and in some cases these may be seen as a result of the shifting policy contained within the Guidance published by DCMS for local licensing authorities. We would like to draw the Committee's attention particularly to the introduction of special policies surrounding cumulative impact, not specified in the Act but where the most recent Guidance promotes special policies around concentration of sales by on trade outlets only.

 

Although the Licensing Act 2003 was designed to be deregulatory, there is a perception now amongst many of BISL's members that licensing authorities and some responsible authorities have moved well beyond the application of the Act and the subsequent Guidance. It is the contents of local licensing policies rather than the actual legislation that is the main driver in some areas for the action of licensing authorities.

 

September 2008