Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by Philip Liddell, Licensee, Peal O’ Bells Public House (PR 25)

I would like to offer my opinion with regards to certain aspects of the amendments to the Licensing Act 2003 as covered by the proposed Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. I do this in my capacity as publican and lessee of the Peal O’ Bells, Holt near Wrexham, where I have been landlord for over 7 years. My particular concern is the late night levy, its application, lack of flexibility and the detrimental effect it will have on the "Community Local". Whilst I am aware that there is a great deal of resources utilized to police during late night drinking, and the following morning cleaning the mess, in addition to NHS resource drainage, I feel that an unfortunate consequence of your proposals will further damage the most vulnerable of licensed properties-the community pub.

1.1. I believe the reasons behind the first Licensing Laws were to create a café culture in our Country. It also addressed the mass exit of clubbers onto the streets at the same time and allowed the Police to deploy resources effectively, without becoming too stretched. I have absolutely no problem with those objectives. I also have no objection to applying a charge or a fine to late night pubs and clubs where trouble occurs, nuisance is caused and police are required to deal with the consequences. This rarely, if ever occurs in a community local. So why should the serially penalised ‘local’ landlord, and his or her customers, most of whose clubbing days are well and truly over, be made to pay for the consequences of a few "yobs" who are poorly supervised and over "loaded" when leaving late night venues.

1.2 Which brings me to one of my main points. This is the loading issue – or "pre-loading" as it is popular known. Whereas in past decades, pre-loading meant meeting in the local pub and having a few jars before calling a taxi into town, or even meeting in town in an ordinary pub. There were many "circuit" pubs, again the trouble emanating from these pubs was minimal – there are exceptions of course. Now, the popular trait for the youngsters is to get pre-loaded at home with cheap supermarket booze. The dangers here are that the drinking is unsupervised, there is no cost limitation – the booze can be purchased for less than the price of a bottle of water in these irresponsible establishments and measures are infinitely larger than those sold in the pub under the watchful eye of the landlord. Behavior is detrimentally effected due to the considerably larger amount of alcohol consumed in this manner. Hence these people are in a unruly state before they set foot in town, or enter the licensed premises. The licensee is duly responsible for this behavior, yet it is none of his or her doing. And I would ask, what levy are these Supermarkets going to pay for late night drinking, and the financial consequences that they are directly responsible for? Precisely nothing. Whilst the likes of my pub, and ultimately my long suffering customers, will be hit with yet another stealth tax, which will drive them to drink at home.

1.3 As some of you will be aware, and as highlighted in the BISC report 1998, which is still ongoing, the traditional Great British Pub is in danger of becoming extinct. If you are not aware of this report, nor were you part of the recent Commons Debate in December with regards to the Community Pub, then you only have to walk down the high street, look at the boarded up pubs, at the "Lease for Sale" signs adorning many establishments, or take a trip into the local villages, where, even if you find the pub trading, it is often in a poor state of repair, and its opening hours restricted because of overwhelming overheads. Over regulation, over renting, over zealous landlords (i.e. Pub Companies and large Breweries with "tied" estates) have all contributed to the pub’s demise. Changing cultures and habits have also aided its fall, nothing so markedly as the explosion of home drinking, fuelled by the all powerful, and rarely admonished Supermarkets. Off sales are rapidly increasing, whereas on sales are in terminal decline. Supermarkets offer no supervision whatsoever following the sale of the alcohol, however, if its incumbents frequent our establishments unfit from their cheap booze, and cause problems, we have to bear the consequences, as indeed do the clubs in town, and all will have to bear the costs of NHS intervention. Whereas the Supermarket could well afford to bear the costs of their irresponsibility, yet another levy charged to the local pub, or further limitation of their hours of operation, will be another nail in the coffin.

1.4 The Supermarkets are running rough shod over the every guideline for responsible drinking, and the Government (and previous Governments) are either unwilling or too scared to act. Selling alcohol at below cost price is a prime example. Supermarket appointed Lawyers will run rings around local authority solicitors, and this will manifest itself should this Bill succeed in its present form. The Local Authorities will be scared to levy any charges which would be truly in proportion to the underlying damage done by the Supermarkets, because they will be scared of litigation. The lowly landlord will yet again bear the monetary and practical consequences.

2.1 The ability of the Bill to allow flexibility within the Local Authority to administer its objectives is self limiting. There is a blanket inclusion for the late night levy – it is all establishments or none. Nothing in between, no differentiation between village pubs and town circuit pubs and clubs, and no allowance for the size of the venue. How can a tiny one roomed local be charged the same levy as a multi roomed, multi floored club, or even compared to a supermarket and the volumes of alcohol they dispense. The punishment should fit the crime.

2.2 The stating of a 12 o’clock deadline is again inflexible and I suggest impractical. When the Licensing Laws were implemented, we had a supper license which allowed an hour extra licensed drinking for those who had participated in a meal. Under "grandfather rights" we transferred this to our present license – very little increase in hours, however, we set Friday and Saturday alcohol selling hours to 1.00am. Time for premises to have emptied is 1.30am, and 12.30 during the week. The time I actually call time varies, and rarely does it stretch to the stated time. This allows quiet dissipation of customers, no pressure on them to "throw" drinks down them, and results in an orderly exit from the premises. Pressure to kick everybody out at 12 o’clock as this amendment states, will create more noise nuisance and negate the perceived purpose of this Bill.

2.3 The monetary consequences of the late night levy as applied to ourselves will be unavoidable no matter which avenue we chose to take. Because my license states that I can serve alcohol to 1am Friday Saturday, I am encompassed in the late night levy, even if I choose to stop serving at 11.30. In order to avoid the charges, (which as previously stated, I can ill afford to do), I would have to apply for a license amendment, which would cost me a further £120 on top of the £70 annual charge, Every occasional late licenses I wanted to apply for such as New years Eve, Weddings, special events, would cost £22 for a "TEN". This in comparison to the £30 per 3 yearly fee administered by the Magistrates prior to the Licensing Bill, is a massive hike in charges, which again I can ill afford.

In summary, though the Bill may have the best intentions, it strikes at the heart of the most vulnerable of Licensed Premises-the Community Local. These pubs are rapidly closing and with them the sense of community spirit, local jobs and local amenity. Soon, there will be nowhere for village and towns folk to meet or go about their business-the Post Offices have been decimated, the Libraries and Civic Centers will soon be victims of further Local Authority cuts. It is the most socially responsible people that will suffer as a consequence of these ill thought out measures-the local Licensee. And Society itself will suffer. Before too long, no-one will be seen outside of their own home, other than coming to and from work, or their once a week trip to the Supermarket. Drinking unsupervised at home will be the only means to get a drink, and alcoholism and binge drinking will continue upwards on an exponential curve, as figures show its increase is continuing despite the closure of so many pubs, and the dramatic drop in alcohol consumption in the On Trade. If that is a Society that you wish to be part of, and are happy to encourage by supporting the full remit of this Bill, then go ahead. It is certainly not my vision of Britain and will definitely not address the concerns it is aimed at.

January 2011