Memorandum submitted by ACRE

 

ACRE leads the Rural Community Action Network (RCAN) comprising 38 Rural Community Councils (RCCs) and 8 regional bodies that together provide comprehensive support to communities and community groups across rural England.

 

Management of community owned assets is a core business for ACRE and its network members. ACRE supports and trains the specialist rural community building advisers located with its local members, cascading dedicated advice and technical support to grass roots organisations. ACRE supports the advisers individually and collectively at regional level and represents the interests of community buildings at national level.

 

There are 8900 village halls and similar community buildings in rural England managed by volunteer committees. Community buildings provide a centre for delivery of services and activities for their community many of which come under regulated entertainment for the purposes of the Licensing Act 2003. Users of community buildings cover the whole age range with activities such as music, theatre and cinema and sport being enjoyed by all. It is rare for any of these activities to fall foul of the licensing objectives including social, fundraising activities that include the sale of alcohol.

 

Community buildings are exempt from a fee for their Premises Licence. Where the sale of alcohol is included in their Premises Licence they are subject to the same fee bands as all other licensed premises.

 

ACRE has been closely involved in the progression of the Act through the Licensing Advisory Group and Sub Groups, the High Level Licensing Group and the Live Music Forum.

 

 

1. ACRE is not aware that levels of public nuisance, night time offences and perceptions of public safety have changed in the areas surrounding the rural community buildings that they support. There may be issues in some small rural/market towns but ACRE is not able to comment on these.

 

2. Community buildings in rural areas, together with public houses, are the main providers of small venues for live music. The second stage of our licensing research (November 2005) showed that 25% of committees believed that ad hoc live music events, touring arts events and filmed horse racing would diminish because of the Act due to the restriction on the number of Temporary Event Notices (TENs) allowed. However, the third stage of our research which represents the period January 06 to December 06 showed that 67% of the 218 halls surveyed had up to 12 live music events during the period of research, 7% had between 13-25 live music events and 4% had more then 25. This would indicate that live music activity continues to thrive in rural communities.

 

ACRE encourages all community buildings to obtain a Premises Licence but our research showed that 12% rely wholly on TENs. These community buildings would therefore benefit from the introduction of a 'de minimis' exemption as the TENs could be used for other community activity.

 

3. Sports and social clubs play a key role in communities along with the community buildings that ACRE represents. Their common purposes contribute to healthy, vibrant and sustainable communities. The sale of alcohol is an incidental activity but nonetheless an important one that supports many fundraising and social activities in the community.

 

ACRE's research in June 2007 showed that only 35% of community buildings held a full Premises Licence with alcohol and had therefore incurred considerable fees. Community buildings relying on TENs incur a cost of 252 per annum if used at the full limit.

 

When the Legislative Reform Order to remove the requirement for a Designated Premises Supervisor in community premises is in place community buildings will incur charges, probably in band A. However it remains to be seen which fee bands the community buildings will actually come under and consequently the overall financial burden.

 

ACRE is aware that CCPR are making a proposal for reducing fees to their clubs and we would be keen to support their initiative.

 

4. The Licensing Act 2003 created a significant change for committees running community buildings with the accompanying paperwork and costs. ACRE was concerned that the complexities of the process would mean that many community buildings decided not to apply under the new Act but to restrict the use of their building, if necessary, to comply with the law. Anecdotal evidence implies that a number of community buildings have had to turn away events that would provide a substantial income for their community building because their TENs had been allocated elsewhere.

 

During the Act's first year of implementation the burden of administration, and cost involved was significant. This has not continued at the same level but committees still have a number of responsibilities under the Act, which result in additional paperwork:

 

Ensuring that all hirers of the premises understand their responsibilities under the Act particularly with regard to the sale of alcohol.

Ensuring that TENs are monitored - there is no requirement for the local authority to inform the committee that a TEN has been given on their premises.

Ensuring any changes to the premises or activities taking place in the premises are noted and the appropriate variation applied for.

 

ACRE understands that the Legislative Reform Orders for minor variations and removal of the requirement for a Designated Premises Supervisor should reduce the bureaucracy together with proposals under discussion for 'de minimis' exemptions.

 

Evidence from one committee suggests that the bureaucracy has decreased because "having sorted out the basic premises licence, the cost of TENs and realising the bureaucracy for a licence to sell alcohol was so great they moved over to asking people for donations instead of selling glasses of wine at functions, their income from donations is now higher than it was when they sold it"

 

September 2008