Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Michael Kheng (PR 03)

Firstly one point I would like to make is that the consultation period in the summer was very short, only 6 weeks from the end of July to the beginning of September, a time where schools are on holiday and also therefore families. I think the consultation period was extremely short and of the workshop I attended in Birmingham the feeling was that it was a ‘done deal’ and why were we wasting our time being consulted only for our views and what appeared to the majorities view ignored.

I think the report by Tonic Consultants may be flawed as it appears there was not a fair cross section of representatives who are quoted in the percentages stated within the report.

I list the 13 proposals below and comment against each one;

1) Applicants to give greater consideration to the local area when making their application.

The proposal seeks to make applicants provide contextual information as part of the application on issues such as the local area’s social-demographic characteristics, specific local crime and disorder issues and an awareness of the local environment. As applications are determined at a local level by District, Borough, City Councils etc I cannot see why an applicant would be expected to incur further costs to obtain this information, information which the local authority will, I expect, already know. What would happen if the application did not provided the correct information? Would the application fail? Where would the applicant obtain the details of specific local crime and disorder issues? The police are facing budget cuts so I do not see the police wanting to provide this information and if they did then how quickly would the information be made available and how balanced would it be?

2) Extend Early Morning Restriction Orders

I can see if these are introduced that local authorities will be pressured into introducing an EMRO to prevent premises selling alcohol into the early hours. Although crime may be used as the argument with cuts to police budgets to restrict sales of alcohol in the early hours would greatly assist in the number of police officers required on certain shifts. If a restaurant was located within an area of an EMRO how would they be effected if an order prevented sales past midnight? Would and EMRO cover off licensed premises such as supermarkets?

3) Give more autonomy to licensing authorities regarding closing times

In addition to points I raise under 2) I feel that if this were to be introduced then we could return to fixed terminal hours and therefore a large number of people on the streets at closing time. The Act which has now been in force for five years appears to be working. Staggered closing times enables customers to make their own minds up as to when to go home or move on to another venue. All our venues have 24 hour licences to sell alcohol. We do not open our premises for 24 hours a day but to have the flexibility to remain open if need be is extremely valuable not only to our company but also to our customers.

4) Late night levy

With cuts being announced to local authorities they will be looking at all avenues to increase their income. If this proposal is brought in I suspect most, if not all, local authorities will introduce a levy. Most pubs and clubs now open until around midnight especially at weekends. The introduction of a levy would mean close at midnight or pay. In tough economic times I ask why introduce this? Would this not bring about a terminal hour of midnight and any problems that are alleged to occur at say 2am will surly just happen at midnight. The proposal also seeks to permit local authorities to, at their discretion, offer discounts or exemptions to premises. If left to the discretion of the cash strapped local authorities would they honestly want to discount or wave a levy? If a discount were to be offered then this could be from 1% to 100%. Would it be fair for a City centre restaurant to pay a levy in order they could sell alcohol beyond midnight?

5) Making local health bodies responsible authorities

Surly a health body would have to object to every new application and therefore each application would have to be determined by the licensing committee therefore adding costs to the applicant and the authority. I cannot see how a heath body could not object to the granting of an application. How could they separate one application from another in terms of not objecting to one and objecting to another?

6) Making relevant licensing authorities responsible authorities

This proposal would in effect enable the licensing authority, the body who will determine an application, object against an application. I cannot possible see how if an authority objected against an application it could then at a hearing grant it. This would lead to more appeals being lodged in the already busy Magistrates’ courts adding several thousand pounds in fees, and delays, to an application. A licensing authority should remain neutral and unbiased and only intervene under enforcement.

7) Persistently selling alcohol to children

I fully support that selling alcohol to under 18’s is a very serious matter and should be dealt with appropriately. However increasing the maximum fine to £20,000 from £10,000 is simply headline grabbing. The current fine of up to £10,000 has never been enforced so what is the reasoning for doubling it? The real issues are that under 18’s who purchase or attempt to purchase alcohol seem to receive nothing but a slap on the wrists and the alcohol confiscated. I firmly believe that if more action and fines were issued to under 18’s in these cases that it would start to deter under 18’s. At the moment there is not deterrent and there are no proposals to introduce any. The other issue that retailers face is that some parents seem happy to purchase alcohol for under 18’s who, again, are not being targeted. Education is desperately needed in both these areas. It is only though education and punishment of ALL the offenders that the issue of under 18 sales and consumption can start to be tackled. The proposal also seeks to extend the ‘voluntary’ closure period from 48 hours to 2 weeks. If this is issued by the police or trading standards then how can this be voluntary. The basis is that the voluntary closure is an alternative to prosecution. Seems to me that what the Home Office are saying is that is a premises closes for 2 weeks they will lose income for a 2 week period and save the police time and money in going to court. It also forces the premises to plead guilty without the right to a fair trial.

8) Increase the weight licensing authorities will have to give to relevant representations and objection notices from the police

The proposal seeks to require licensing authorities to accept all representations and notices and adopt all recommendations from the police. This will lead to a number of conditions being added to licences that are not required and in some cases could be illegal. One example would be the requirement of CCTV. Although I agree with CCTV and have CCTV fitted in all our premises the police always request a standard set of CCTV conditions such as keeping images for 28 days, giving copies to the police immediately upon request, police being able to view, a person on site at all times who can operate the system and make recording etc. Most of these are actually illegal under the Data Protection Act. As the Data Controller of our company only I can make recordings so that I can retain integrity of the system. I also make the police, and anyone else, complete a request form for any data and only then when I am happy will I supply a copy of the data, all covered under the Data Protection Act. The police are forcing people to ignore the Data Protection Act by insisting the can view whenever they want and ask for images whenever they want. If this proposal were come in then we would not only see conditions such as CCTV becoming standard but a number of others.

9) Reducing the burden of proof on licensing authorities

Currently any decision at a hearing must be based on evidence and necessary The proposal is to change this to a decision being appropriate. I would question that as in 8) police may argue that a raft of condition are required as being appropriate and if 8) came in the licensing authority would have to add them to the licence conditions.

10) Enable licensing authorities to suspend licences due to non-payment of fees

I actually fully support this proposal

11) Temporary event notices

Again I fully support this proposal

12) Increase the opportunities for local residents or their representative groups to be involved in licensing decisions by removing the vicinity test for interested parties

Currently a resident or business must be located in the vicinity, although vicinity is not defined within the Act. Removing this will enable a business based in say Nottingham, object to an application being made in Lincoln, so long as the objection was relevant. Surely this will only add to the objections that are made and therefore to the costs to the applicant and local authority. I cannot see why this proposal has ever been considered let alone put forward.

13) Lower the evidential hurdle for Cumulative Impact Policies to allow licensing authorities to have more control over outlet density.

I do not have any comments to make on this proposal at present.

One proposal I would have liked to have seen , which again is being delayed to be discussed at a later point is that of irresponsible promotions that supermarkets are permitted under law to conduct. It is wrong that if I sold alcohol at below cost I could face losing my licence yet it is perfect legal for a supermarket to sell a licensed drug at less that cost. I would have thought this issue would have been high on the Home Office list of priorities for alcohol but it appears not to be. Why is this? Supermarkets force farmers to sell their milk to them at below cost and then sell it to their customers at a high profit margin. Should they not be selling milk at less profit and alcohol at a higher profit?

I hope the above explains some of my fears with the current proposals. If you want to chat though them in more detail please feel free to call me. I think that with there still being around 30 pubs closing a week in England and the estimates of the new proposals costing the industry around £1m a week these proposal are the last thing we need especially when on balance the new Act has started to work, after all it has only been with us for five years.

December 2010