Memorandum submitted by The Wine & Spirit Trade Association ( WSTA)

 

 

1. The Wine & Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) is the UK organisation which represents the whole of the wine and spirit supply chain including producers, importers, wholesalers, bottlers, warehouse keepers, freight forwarders, brand owners, licensed retailers and consultants. The WSTA was has over 330 members and includes amongst its member companies, most of the supermarket and specialist off licence chains operating in typical towns and city centres. The nature of our organisation means that we are best placed to comment on aspects of Committee's inquiry related to the administration of the licensing regime for off-trade retailers.

 

2. The WSTA seeks to function as a driver for best practise in off-trade alcohol sales and we provide the secretariat for the Retail of Alcohol Standards Group (RASG), a forum for competing off-trade retailers to share training methods and good practise. RASG has been successful in rolling out the Challenge 21 signage which has now been widely adopted by on and off-trade premises across the UK. RASG has also been active in partnership working with local authorities, pioneering the innovative Community Alcohol Partnership (CAP) model with Cambridgeshire County Council (see accompanying booklet).

 

3. The WSTA broadly welcomes the Licensing Act and the greater flexibility it has allowed which has been mainly positive both for business and for the many customers who value the opportunity to purchase alcohol as part of a weekly shop at times which suit them. We also welcome the additional and more flexible powers given to enforcement agencies to deal with any problems arising around licensed activity.

 

4. However, our concern is that the greater delegation of powers down to a local level has led to inconsistencies in the way that Local Authorities have interpreted and implemented the Act. In some cases authorities have set or tried to set licensing conditions which are not evidence based and which can be counter productive or possibly even illegal. At the annex below, we list some examples as reported by our member companies.

 

5. The central concern here is the unnecessarily burdensome nature of the approach of some local authorities and the wide variation between the approaches taken by different areas. While we welcome the enforcement of existing laws on alcohol, some of the approaches taken by Local Authorities seem designed to increase the level of bureaucracy for an off-licensed premise rather than address any specific poor conduct around the sale of alcohol.

 

6. We believe that the Government needs to do much more to guide Local Authority licensing officers towards solutions which are known to work. The Government needs to promote best practice and evidence based solutions through better regulation and partnership working. We endorse the recent NAO analysis of the implementation of the Licensing Act 2003. It commented: "Where the Licensing Act appeared to be being used most rigorously and effectively the members of the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership, and primarily the local authority and the police, had built up a good relationship with the licensed trade and worked to help them understand the business benefits of the Act". (Report: HO Reducing the Risk of Crime 21 February 2008, National Audit Office).

 

7. We believe that local authorities can achieve better results by working in partnership with local retailers, as per the CAP model. This approach is far less resource intensive for local authorities and retailers can provide valuable intelligence to aid enforcement. Furthermore, by enforcing the offences of proxy purchasing alcohol on behalf of children and attempted underage purchase, this approach creates a much needed deterrent to illegal behaviour around alcohol on the demand side. The WSTA would be pleased to work with any Local Authority that wishes to institute partnership working.

 

8. Finally, the recent introduction of local better regulation offices should we believe become the key means for ensuring that consistent better regulation is implemented.

 


ANNEX - Examples of inconsistent or poor regulation

 

Different enforcement practices make it hard to provide uniform training programmes

Some local authorities use forged ID during test purchase operations and use volunteers over the recommended guidance age. This is designed to catch out retailers rather than to validate high quality training programmes.

Constant test purchasing - some Local Authorities will test a store constantly until they find an illegal sale when they will then review the licence. This approach fails to take into account any risk based assessment and does not tackle the demand side. It also risks turning a decent, hard working check out assistant who has made a mistake into a sacked worker who has a criminal record.

 

Processing of Applications

Some local authorities require conditions to be placed on licences, sometimes without prior discussion or consultation, to meet perceived local problems or concerns, as opposed to issues which directly relate to the premises which are the subject of the application.

Some authorities are simply not aware of what documentation is required. Stores are therefore often unnecessarily asked to produce and copy documents which aren't needed for consideration of applications for variations of licences.

There is considerable inconsistency in the processing of new personal license applications. Delivery ranges from a couple of days to months for the council to respond.

Minor variations have been the subject of a recent consultative proposal from DCMS. At the moment, there is considerable inconsistency between local authorities as to what they consider to be minor and how they handle the process.

When hearings are required, some authorities provide notice for applicants to attend whilst others refuse to acknowledge that the applicant has any rights to be at their own hearing. Submissions are sometimes required well in advance of a hearing and sometimes not.

 

Perverse conditions

We have seen Local Authorities require all beer or cider over 5.5% to be removed from shelves. This restriction has no evidence base and includes all the fine quality varietal ciders and beers on offer to the discerning drinker.

Some local authorities require impossible training demands such as requiring all the staff in a supermarket to complete a BII qualification examination.

Some local authorities are asking stores to mark their bottles and cans. Again there is no indication that they have considered the cost to companies and examined how this will help prevent under age drinking.

Stores are asked to enter into voluntary agreements with each other and with the police/local authority not to sell alcohol to those under 21. We have strong legal advice that companies cannot enter into this kind of agreement because of competition law.

Some local authorities have sought to impose conditions on retailers to restrict price-promotion activity which is also likely to put those retailers in breach of competition law if they agree to the condition.

 

 

 

September 2008