Memorandum submitted by the Local Government Association and LACORS

 

 

Councils have been successfully implementing the Licensing act since its introduction and have used it to pursue their licensing objectives. Much of the new legislation works. However, there are areas where it can be improved.

 

The government should reimburse the 102 million implementation costs currently borne by council tax payers. It should also, as a matter of urgency, respond to the 2007 Elton report. Councils believe the administration of the Licensing Act should be moved onto an audited, but genuine, cost recovery basis;

 

The DCMS should cut red tape, initially by moving to implement its own Licensing Act simplification plan. It should also consider further measures to remove administrative burdens and support local flexibility;

 

Councils are community leaders with a duty to tackle crime and disorder. As such they should be able to intervene on crime and disorder prevention grounds in the awarding of Temporary Events Notices.

 

Licensing authorities should have the power to suspend licenses where annual licensing fees are not paid. This power would comparable to that available under the Gambling Act 2005.


Q1 - 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?

 

1. In spring 2008, the LGA surveyed one in seven councils, half of police authorities and just under a third of all Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) as part of an analysis of the implementation of the Licensing Act. The surveyed authorities, report that the Act has simplified and improved licensing processes. It has also contributed significantly to closer public sector working with, for example, a third of councils now working more closely with their PCTs.

 

2. Further results from this survey show:

 

Between 20% and 25% of each kind of organisation considered that alcohol-related disorder had reduced as a result of the implementation of the 2003 Act;

Between 66% and 75% of each category of organisation perceived either an increase or no change in alcohol-related incidents since the implementation of the Act.

Specifically, 10% of police authorities and 4% of local authorities reported an increase in alcohol-related incidents since the implementation of the Act

More alarmingly, however, 29% of PCTs reported an increase in alcohol-related incidents.

 

3. A majority of councils, police authorities and PCTs therefore report that the Licensing Act has not contributed to an improvement in alcohol-related disorder incidents. If the Act was ever conceived as a single solution to alcohol-related disorder and health issues, it has failed to meet that objective.

 

4. The Government's policy objectives for alcohol-related disorder would be best met by facilitating closer public sector working. This can be achieved by addressing the our key recommendations of cutting red tape, meeting the financial burdens incurred by council tax payers and by empowering local authorities to find innovative solutions to the local problems.

 

5. A further discrete recommendation regards public safety and Temporary Events Notices. Councils are community leaders with a duty - in partnership - to tackle crime and disorder. As such they should be able to intervene on crime and disorder prevention grounds in the awarding of Temporary Events Notices. Currently only the police are allowed to make such interventions.

 

6. A related public nuisance issue can also be seen in the increased numbers of crowds gathering outside licensed premises to smoke, following the Smokefree legislation of 2007. Although currently untested, councils are unlikely to be able to use public nuisance powers under the Environmental Protection Act (1990) and the Noise Act (1996) to address noise created by such crowds. The Licensing Act supplementary guidance seeks to express (at paragraph 7.40) that Licensing Authorities can have regard to potential as well as actual public nuisance. This is a helpful tool in addressing such issues. However, the current wording of the guidance is unclear, and we recommend that it is amended, following consultation with councils.

 

Q2 - The impact of the Act on the performance of live music.

 

7. The LGA / LACORS have not analysed the impact of the Act on specific entertainment sectors. We are aware though that the majority of premises licenses with regulated entertainment include live music as a licensable activity. Overall very few applications for live music have been refused, and we are not aware that the Act has had any significant impact, either positive or negative, relating specifically to live music.

 

Q3 - The financial impact of the Act on Sporting and Social clubs

 

8. The LGA / LACORS have not undertaken their own analysis of the financial impact of the Act on specific types of licensable premises. The Independent Fees Review (2006) however, found "insufficient evidence" that community and amateur sports clubs had discontinued licensable activities because of the increase in licensing fees following the introduction the Act.

 

9. Despite this we are aware of concerns - amongst sporting bodies in particular - that increases in licensing fees divert money from "frontline" sports provision; away, for example, from equipment or coaching services. Local councils are both a central funder and keen advocate of community and amateur sports clubs. They recognise the contribution that such clubs make to levels of public fitness and satisfaction, and to local priorities such as improving public health and fostering social capital.

 

10. Any licensing fee exemptions for sports clubs, however, would- under the current fee regime - simply add to the financial burden already imposed on council tax payers. Therefore, we again strongly recommend that the DCMS reimburses the costs already incurred by local authorities and seeks to move towards an audited, but genuine, cost recovery basis for its future administration. This should be a prerequisite to any other moves that advantage specific sectors, benefiting - as it would - all local residents.

 

Q4 - Whether the Act has led, or looks likely to lead, to a reduction in bureaucracy for those applying for licenses under the new regime and those administering it.

 

11. Councils welcome the Licensing Act's existing administrative reforms, which are a positive step towards reducing the burdens of the licensing process. The DCMS' own simplification plan however notes many continuing administrative burdens. It also contains many welcome potential solutions. However the plan was first issued in 2006, and we have real concerns over the lack of progress made to date. We urge the Department to implement the plan as a priority.

 

12. We would also like to the see the department go further than those steps set out in the plan. We recommend, for example, that local discretion to award Temporary Events Notices (TENs) after their application deadline has passed should be allowed in cases where the police and the local authority both support this.

 

13. The department should also act to lift the resource and financial burdens imposed by its licensing statistical bulletin. Prior to the implementation of the Act in 2005, licensing authorities invested in data collection systems that were appropriate to local needs. In 2007 the Department introduced additional reporting requirements that mean councils must retrospectively, and often manually, sift hundreds of license application. Such data returns are not mandatory, in order to comply with the new central-local performance framework. However, by "naming and shaming" in the final report those councils that do not provide them the Department contravenes the spirit of the both the new performance framework and the central-local Concordat.

 

Q5 - Whether the anticipated financial savings for relevant industries will be realised

 

14. The story of council implementation of the Act is one of financial costs rather than savings. The latest figures collated by LGA and LACORS show that the Act has cost, to date, over 100 million more to implement than the Government expected, and that council tax payers are footing this bill, which is worth nearly 5 for the average council tax payer. In response to the LGA / LACORS 2008 survey, 94% of councils reported an increase in pressure on their resources.

 

15. The Government's own report, produced by Sir Les Elton, recommended that councils be reimbursed for 45 million of the costs so far incurred, and that fees should rise immediately by 7%.

 

16. We strongly recommend, therefore, that Department should resolve the financial deficit currently borne by council tax payers. This would bring the Act into line with Ministerial assurances to Parliament that its implementation would be cost neutral to councils. It should also, as a matter of urgency, respond to the Elton report. This response should seek explanation of the report's criteria for assessing "justifiable spending" - so that a single assessment of the true costs of the Act's implementation can be reached.

 

17. We also recommend further action to resolve the underlying pressure on council resources caused by outdated fees levels. The administration of the Act should be moved away from fixed fees and onto an audited, but genuine, cost recovery basis. Failure to do so will leave council tax payers out of pocket and councils perpetually advocating the review of centrally set fees.

18. The costs borne by councils are further exacerbated by the fact that they can not impose sanctions upon licensees for non payment of annual fees. Many authorities have reported increasing levels of unpaid annual fees. They must wait several years for the debt to accrue to a level sufficient to make the debt recovery process viable. We recommend that the Act be amended to provide the same sanction for non payment of annual fee as that set out in the Gambling Act 2005, which allows authorities to revoke the relevant licence.

 

Supplementary Information

 

LGA and LACORS

 

19. The Local Government Association (LGA) is a cross party organisation that speaks for over 500 local authorities in England and Wales that spend some 113 billion per annum and represent over 50 million people. The LGA exists to promote better local government.

 

20. The Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services (LACORS) provides advice and guidance to councils on regulatory matters, including licensing and gambling. LACORS is part of the LGA Group of organisations that support councils.

 

September 2008