Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Greene King Plc (PR 22)

1. Greene King was founded in 1799 and is headquartered in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk. We currently employ over 18,000 people and operate around 2,500 pubs and restaurants across England, Wales and Scotland, of which nearly 900 are retail pubs and restaurants and nearly 1,600 are tenanted or leased pubs. Our leading retail brands are Hungry Horse, Old English Inns, Loch Fyne Restaurants and Eating Inn.

2. We are pleased that a number of the proposals contained within the consultation document have not been brought forward, as they would have had the potential to undermine the legal framework of the current licensing system. We also believe that the current system appears to be working fairly well, and that in a number of areas there have been significant reductions in alcohol related crime where the authorities have worked together using the current legislation. For us, we believe that the focus going forwards should be to ensure that local authorities use the powers available to them under the existing legislation effectively, to tackle irresponsible premises, rather than the introduction of yet more powers and bureaucracy which may not improve enforcement overall.

3. We would like to comment specifically on the following:-

4. Clause 124 - Late Night Levy:

Our main concern with this clause is the fact that it applies to a local authority's entire area. This will mean that country pubs who wish to trade late but have no problem of crime or disorder will have to pay the levy in the same way that town centre sites do. We are also concerned that this will impact many pubs across our estate, even if they do not regularly want to trade late, if they choose to trade late on eg New Year's Eve or other bank holidays. We recognise that, as an alternative to this, our pubs could reduce their licensed trading hours, and then use TEN's to extend their trading hours when required, but this will add an additional administrative burden not only on the premises licence holder but also on the licensing authority and on the police.

5. It is therefore our view that a broad brush approach to applying a levy to a local authority's entire geographic area is wrong. If the aim of this levy is to assist in solving problems relating to late night disturbances in specific areas, then we would prefer to see the existing powers in the existing legislation used to target those premises responsible for creating the problems.

6. Clause 104 - Primary Care Trusts and Local Health Boards as responsible authorities:

We recognise the role health authorities have in relation to alcohol problems but believe that the proposal to make them responsible authorities has not been thought through. A local health authority will not be in a position to challenge how individual pubs are operated and making them a responsible authority could impose a significant unnecessary burden on them. If local health authorities did object to licences on the grounds, for example, that the A&E statistics for their area showed a high prevalence of alcohol related issues, this could result in costly and time consuming hearings to determine the relevance of their objections to individual outlets.

7. Our recommendation would therefore be that health authorities should be recognised as interested parties, which would enable them to intervene when they had a particular issue that they wish to see resolved.

8. Clause 103 - Licensing authorities as responsible authorities:

We are concerned that making a licensing authority a responsible authority will give licensing authorities the right to object to applications and to request a review of a licence, when previously their role has been to process applications made to them. There is a significant risk of additional administrative burdens on all parties as more decisions may need to be appealed to independent magistrates.

9. Clause 105 - Premises Licences:

The effect of this section is to remove the requirement that interested parties (business or residents) wishing to make a representation in relation to a licence must be in the vicinity of the relevant premises. We believe that the current proposal will make it very difficult for licensing officers to refuse to accept representations. It will increase costs for all parties, lead to an increasing number of longer hearings, adding to delays and causing an administrative burden for licensing authorities. There is also the risk that the number of objectors will influence the conditions that are imposed on licences. We also foresee less use of local mediation, which has seen some success in solving local issues, as it may prove impossible to deal with increased numbers of representations from a wider area.

10. We believe that the Government could, instead, simply adopt a similar provision to Section 158 of the Gambling Act 2005. This defines an interested party as "someone who, in the opinion of the Licensing Authority which issues the licence, or to which the application is made, is a person who:

a) lives sufficiently close to the premises to be likely to be affected by the authorised activities;

b) has a business interest that might be affected by the authorised activities;

c) represents persons who satisfy a) or b)."

11. Clause 109 - Reducing the Burden:

We are concerned that the effect on premises licences of changing the word "necessary" to "appropriate" is, or could be, massive. We are not entirely clear how the word "appropriate" will be defined by the Courts. It is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as "suitable or proper in the circumstances" whereas "necessary" is defined as something that is "needed to be done – essential". We are concerned that the addition of many "appropriate" conditions could add significantly to the costs of running community pubs, if conditions that are "necessary" for certain town centre venues are also considered "appropriate" for community pubs.

12. We believe that the current system, which enables licensing authorities to negotiate or impose those conditions which they believe are required, is sufficient.

We hope that these comments are a useful aid to your deliberations.

January 2011