Memorandum submitted by NOCTIS
The Select Committee has asked for comments on a number of different issues. We have restricted our comments to those areas where we represent members and have not responded to those areas (sports and social clubs) where we do not have an interest. We have attempted to describe the current landscape as far as late night operators are concerned. It is clear that some of the factors which may affect levels of disorder are as a consequence of the Licensing Act, although it is clear too that the Licensing Act is but one of a number of different factors.
In this submission, as a consequence, we have attempted to break down a number of factors which have all elicited negative impacts on the market over the almost three years since the Act went live. At the same time, the last three years have also seen an unprecedented level of both partnership and CSR initiatives. We feel, for the sake of fairness and accuracy, this should be noted too.
Has there been any change in levels of public nuisance, numbers of night-time offences or perceptions of public safety since the Act came into force?
The great difficulty with the scope of the question is that it asks for comment on a subject (the Licensing Act) which is only one part of complex and inter-connected jigsaw which can lead to disturbances. In this submission we have attempted to break down a number of factors which have all elicited negative changes in the market over the almost three years since the Act went live.
Below cost selling
One of the features of "liberalising" licensing hours is that it has fostered an increase in pre-loading of off trade alcohol. It is true that pre-loading has been a factor in the night out for many years before the Licensing Act, but inevitably the Act, since it has given longer hours to some venues, has encouraged customers not to venture out until later. This has meant that customers are generally arriving at late night venues 1 -2 hours later than before the Licensing Act 2003.
Obviously the late night venue (by its very nature) has always been the final destination for the evening and our sector has, for decades, been the most challenging in terms of managing difficult customer behaviour. Now however, according to CGA statistics people are consuming a greater number of (home poured) measures and this is making the management of the door a more difficult than ever. Often the late night venue is the unfortunate recipient of these individuals - people who will not be admitted to the venue, but who nonetheless present problems and may commit offences. The difficulty for some late night venues is that they may be targeted as a problem venue for issues which are entirely beyond their control.
One thing which is abundantly clear (as can be seen from the Competition Commission's report) is that the scale of below cost on-trade selling is enormous.
What is also clear is that whilst the market is increasing year-on-year for the off-trade, it is declining in the on-trade (as this CGA graph detailing on-trade visit shows) with a trend towards one big night out a week becoming increasingly the norm.
On the Friday
nights at the above venue, the door staff are refusing 40% of those who present
themselves. This very high figure is
partly because once refused, some people will re-join the end of the line to
try again, since there is effectively no sanction against them not to do so. One
These refusal figures are generally reasonably high, although as the Noctis member (who runs a chain of high street bars mentioned above) notes that his company's underage refusal figures are actually dropping - largely because of the reduced footfall generally, yet also because customers are now well aware that they require valid ID to enter premises and this will be rigorously checked.
Other reasons for a reduction in footfall, include a shift in consumer choice from on to off trade, the credit crunch and the smoking ban. Nonetheless even with reduced footfall problems of customers being too young/inebriated to be admitted - or needing to be removed from the premise - continue to play a significant part in the organisation of late night venues.
It is also important to note that Noctis operators regularly report back that door staff at their venues see people who are trying to gain admittance, consuming alcohol in the queue for the venue.
The difficulty for on trade retailers in the late night sector is that, even though they know from the conversations they are having with their customers and wouldbe customers, that a very large percentage of alcohol is purchased from the off-trade and consumed before heading to our members venues, it is very hard to produce accurate statistics.
Cheap on trade alcohol is also beginning to force late night operators into the invidious and highly unhelpful situation of having to also deep discount in order to compete. This in turn can cause an unfortunate chain of events to occur which may, in some circumstances help create greater levels of disorder.
The smoking ban was originally planned as a public health measure. However it is clear that it also represents additional challenges for operators in terms of managing customers in and out of premises. Our members tell us that managing customers who wish to exit the venue for a cigarette, can and sometimes does cause problems - despite the best endeavours of the venue staff.
For instance, when it takes a long time before customers are allowed out for a cigarette, because the venue staff are managing the flow of customers in and out, and when smokers outside engage in banter with those who are trying (and sometimes failing) to get in, problems can occur.
Negative media/public perceptions
It is clear from the Home Office's own data that crime and disorder have dropped considerably since 1997. The Safe, Sensible, Social consultation document states, very clearly - quoting from recent crime figures in England and Wales from the Home Office Official Bulletin that: "alcohol-related violent crime fell by a third from 1.5 million incidents in 1997 to fewer than 1 million in 2007/08". The next statement however (from the same source) shows that: "over the past five years, the proportion of people who think drunk and rowdy behaviour in public places is a fairly big or very big problem in their area rose from 22% to 25% of those asked."
We need to seriously look at what represents an actual problem and what is being driven by media outlets with their own agendas. Clearly we still have a problem with alcohol related disorder and violence, but the scale of the problem and the solutions needed should be proportionate to the actual (not the perceived) levels of disorder.
Evidently something is working as far as the reduction in crime. The late night sector would argue strongly that they have played an active part in helping reduce levels of disorder by raising operating standards as well as increased partnership working with police.
The late night sector (as with the licensed trade as a whole) has seen an unprecedented number of pressures and a high degree of scrutiny, it has also seen a massive rise in Corporately Socially Responsible activity over the last 3 years. This CSR activity is sometimes disparagingly portrayed, by those opposed to the licensed trade, purely as a PR exercise - yet this is both untrue and highly insulting to the many individuals working extremelly hard to raise standards. We have included a section here outlining some of these CSR schemes. It is worth pointing out that many of these schemes pre-date the Licensing Act, although Best Bar None and Shine have reached much greater prominence in the last 3 years.
Best Bar None
This Home Office backed scheme has been in
operation now for several years with over 70 schemes now running throughout the
Shine is a corporate social responsibility
initiative we have been running with Diageo for the last five years. Originally conceived as an award at our
annual award ceremony, it has been rolled this year to concentrate on community
engagement. Diageo and Noctis are producing a good practice guide to help other
areas of the
This voluntary organisation
which currently has over 400
What has the impact of the Act been on the performance of live music?
The impact of the Act has been mixed. Some smaller operators report a negative impact in terms of their ability to stage live music events, whilst larger operators (many in venues which never used to stage much or any live music) report an increase in live music output in the last few years. It is not clear if this is actually due to the Act being a positive force - or that more operators recognise the value to their business of live music.
Has the Act 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?
The Licensing Act 2003 is regarded by operators as being too complex. We would argue that because there is no slip rule, applications are dealt with by different councils in a wide variety of ways. An example of widely differing practice would be the way that councils deal with the Minor Variations process. Additional requirements under the Licensing Act, such as paying for newspaper adverts, are also unnecessarily burdensome - and not particularly effective.
From the operators point of view, any representations received from the number of authorities (who are now much more vocal than they used to be) then need to be passed over for professional advice so that they can decide on the best way forward. This means that individuals such as Acquisitions Managers in large corporate bodies are spending substantial amounts of time dealing with correspondence concerning representations.
We would also suspect that from the licensing authorities' point of view, increased time is spent dealing with each application. As they are the go-betweens in terms of all of the representations received (assuming that a hearing is required) they have to undergo quite a process of bureaucracy in terms of producing and circulating the Committee papers - and then convening the hearing itself. They then also have to produce an incredibly lengthy licence and summary (which often contains inaccuracies) before sending it out to the applicant.
Will the anticipated financial savings for relevant industries be realized?
We would ague that whatever savings late night operators may have gained in fees has been undermined by all the additional financial and bureaucratic burdens outlined in the previous question.
In addition the Government's aim to "increase competition in the late night market" as set out in the White paper, "Time to Reform" has spectacularly backfired by creating excessive competition across the on and off-trade. As a result any minor financial savings pail into insignificance against the reduced revenues resulting from the 2003 Act.