Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Memorandum submitted by the British Retail Consortium (PR 27)

1. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) is the voice of the retail sector, representing small and independent stores through to the large multiples, selling food and non-food products and services and operating on the High Street, out of town, in community and rural shops and online. As part of our membership, we represent all the major grocery retailers, accounting for over 90% of UK grocery sales, all of which sell alcohol in the off trade.

2. Retail is at the heart of local communities, employing close to three million staff across the country and providing important goods and services to consumers. The sector is an essential contributor to economic growth and to the regeneration of areas affected by crime and disorder.

3. The BRC is interested in both the changes to the structure of the police service and the alterations to alcohol licensing that this Bill seeks to implement. Whilst less concerned regarding the process of electing police commissioners, we would like to raise some questions on how these changes will impact upon the way in which business crime is investigated.

4. Summary

5. Police reform

6. We recognise the benefits of police priorities being driven at a local level but have concerns about how crime against business will be addressed in the future.

7. Retailers are a key part of any community and their voice in setting police priorities needs to be given due consideration.

8. Further localism should not be at the detriment of effective response to cross-border, national and international crime.

9. A national crime strategy which includes business crime remains important to ensure the dissemination of best practice and the duplication of effort/resources.

10. Licensing

11. We do not believe major changes are necessary to the current licensing system as enforcement powers already exist to deal with problems of disorder and badly run premises. The current Bill will increase the regulatory burden on responsible and irresponsible businesses and we believe there should be more scrutiny to ensure that any additional powers are appropriately targeted. It must also strike an appropriate balance between the rights of local residents and the ability to run efficient businesses, particularly for our members for whom alcohol sales are only part of their wider grocery business.

12. Reducing the need for evidence when making representations reduces the credibility of representations and could result in conditions or decisions that are ill conceived and will have little impact in meeting licensing objectives.

13. There is no need for further legislation on underage sales. What is necessary is greater enforcement of current legislation, support for retailers’ efforts and a greater focus on proxy sales.

14. As currently drafted, the late night levy, if introduced in an area, could impact upon businesses not contributing to problems associated with the night time economy and those seeing no real benefit from an additional police presence or other arrangements. The imposition of charges on the basis of no evidence is of particular concern.

15. We are concerned that the Government’s commitment to better regulation and the ‘one in, one out’ rule for introducing new regulation is not being demonstrated. The Bill will significantly increase regulation affecting licensed premises and we are therefore keen to understand where the burden will be similarly reduced.

16. Police Reform

17. All too often retailers, their staff and their customers experience or witness crime and anti-social behaviour. The latest Annual Retail Crime Survey, published by the BRC in January 2010, showed that retail crime cost UK shops £1.1 billion in 2008/09. This represents a 10% increase compared to the previous year.

18. With retail at the heart of communities across the UK, the BRC recognises the benefits of crime and police priorities being driven at a local level. Nevertheless, we are concerned that the exact details regarding how the business community can ensure they are involved in setting local crime priorities and report serious and organised offences remains unclear. Retailers are a key part of local communities and need to be able to work in effective partnership with the police in order to reduce retail crime.

19. Business Crime

20. Police performance has historically been measured against nationally set targets which rarely feature business crime. Whilst we support the move away from nationally imposed targets and towards local accountability, the BRC believes it is vital retailers are seen as a significant partner in the local community and are genuinely involved in setting local crime priorities.

21. We are also concerned about how local policing priorities will be determined by police commissioners. The continued lack of an agreed definition of business crime will make it very difficult to quantify the extent of retail crime and the impact it has, not only on the retail sector, but on the wider community. Many crimes go unreported because victims do not believe the police will take any action, or if they do, that criminals will be brought to justice. Retail crime is seen as a ‘victimless’ offence and historically has therefore ranked as a lower priority than many other offences. This has left many shop workers with the impression that the police are unlikely to respond.

22. It is therefore imperative that local police commissioners do not rely solely on crime maps to determine what the local issues are but that they also utilise the knowledge and understanding of the issues from local people, including neighbourhood policing teams, local residents and, importantly, local businesses. This will necessitate effective and transparent consultation measures to be in place.

23. Neighbourhood Agreements

24. We also have concerns in relation to Neighbourhood Agreements. Whilst we are supportive of restorative justice/community based punishments, we would want to ensure that the business community is consulted on any punishment that may affect their staff and/or their customers’ perceptions of crime and criminality in that location.

25. Cross Border Collaboration

26. The BRC has been concerned at the lack of cross border collaboration on criminal activity and we are therefore reassured to see that commissioners will have a strong duty to collaborate to tackle cross border, national and international crimes. We do however question how the duty to respond to issues which affect the community will be balanced against the demands of serious and organised offences. The lack of a measurement for business crime will make it very difficult to justify taking action against offenders who are not regarded as directly impacting the local community.

27. Local and National Strategy

28. While acknowledging that priorities will be driven at the local level, there needs to be a centralised strategy to address crime which recognises and shares effective practice across each of the force areas. This will provide support to the locally elected commissioners and will remove duplication of effort/resources. A centralised strategy for tackling crimes against the business community should highlight the importance of businesses to safe and vibrant communities and encourage effective engagement between local businesses and elected commissioners. This would provide businesses with the reassurance they need that a coherent and consistent approach will be applied across the numerous force areas. A good example of where this has worked well is with the National Counter Terrorism and Security Office where national leadership/training of the Counter Terrorism and Security Advisers ensures a consistent approach across the UK based on a greater understanding of how national businesses operate.

29. Licensing

30. This Bill contains a number of provisions that raise particular concerns for our members. These are:

31. The Licensing process

32. (S.103) Making Licensing Authorities responsible authorities

33. This clause allows licensing authorities to initiate action on licensing applications and reviews, as well as judging them. Under this proposal Licensing Authorities will become both prosecutor and judge. Members of local authorities recently became ‘interested parties’ able to make representations about licenses as a result of the Policing and Crime Act 2009. The full effects of this change have yet to be seen, so it is not clear that this proposal is needed. At the time, the Government reassured businesses that the Local Authorities (Model Code of Conduct) Order 2007 would safeguard against unfair decisions, however it was recently announced that the Code is to be scrapped. Therefore, it is not clear how a separation of responsibilities within the licensing authority can be ensured.

34. (S.104) Designating health bodies as responsible authorities

35. The BRC agrees that health bodies could contribute useful information from A&E services relevant to the public safety objective in the Licensing Act, providing they can be linked to an offending premises. However, as public health is not, currently, a licensing objective, that would preclude more general opinions on the impact on health of alcohol consumption. It is important that guidance to the Act sets out clearly what representationshealth bodies could make.

36. (S.105) Removing the ‘vicinity’ test:

37. This proposal will mean that individuals or organisations anywhere in country will be able to make representations on a licence, rather than those living and working nearby. This will allow national campaign groups from outside the local authority area to make representations, even though they are not directly affected by the licence in question. The current definition of ‘in the vicinity’ is purposely worded to allow licensing authorities flexibility when making a decision regarding which representations are necessary [1] , so the need for this legislative change is not clear.

38. (S.109) Reducing the evidential burden on Licensing Authorities

39. This change will mean that local authority decisions would be made on the basis of whether they would be ‘appropriate’ rather than ‘necessary ‘to promote the licensing objectives. This risks less rigour in deciding local policies which could result in public money being wasted as well as burdens on business. Most local authorities already manage the licensing process very effectively. The problem seems to be that not all are as effective [2] rather those evidential requirements are too high. A solution might be more collaboration and information sharing to help these local authorities work better, rather than lowering the bar for evidence-based policy making.

40. The BRC is of the view that, taken together, these proposals will substantially change the Licensing Act and run the risk of depriving licensees of a fair process. The Bill Impact Assessment acknowledges that the increased level of regulation will impact on responsible businesses as well as irresponsible licence holders [3] . We are also concerned that the blanket nature of these provisions could reduce the current inclination towards partnership working. Over the past few years, retailers, local authorities, trading standards and the Police have worked well together, sharing intelligence and best practice. Changing the nature of the Licensing Act puts the future of this in doubt.

41. Persistent Underage Sales

42. The Bill includes the proposal to double the maximum fine for persistently selling alcohol to children to £20,000 (S.118) and to increase the current voluntary closure notice time period for persistent underage sale to a minimum of 48 hours and a maximum of 336 hours (14 days) (S.118)

43. All retailers accept that there has to be significant penalties in place for those who persistently sell alcohol to children. However, the definition of persistent underage sales was recently tightened to two instances in three months in the Policing and Crime Act 2009 and there is no evidence to suggest current penalties are not effective.

44. Retailers have invested considerable resources into initiatives such as Challenge 25 and introducing extensive training packages for staff. These measures have reduced underage sales significantly. While more work needs to be done, many local authorities now recognise that ‘proxy’ purchasing (adults buying alcohol on behalf of a child) is an increasingly significant source of underage alcohol.

45. The BRC is of the view that, rather than adding to existing legislation, the Government could build on the work being done locally by retailers, police and local authorities to clamp down on the supply of underage alcohol, both bought directly and by proxy.

46. We also have concerns that the substantial changes to the voluntary closure notice period this Bill proposes are somewhat disproportionate and risk jeopardising the use of this tool. Currently the sanction is used so a store can complete necessary training before able to again sell alcohol. This is a useful opportunity as there is a penalty on the licence-holder in loss of revenue but they use the time given to improve their policies. A voluntary closure of up to two weeks could result in such a substantial loss of customers that retailers would be increasingly unlikely to take that option, thereby increasing the pressure on the courts. Equally, we do not see justification for removing the Police’s discretion in this area.

47. Businesses could well be placed at risk if they are unable to sell alcohol for two weeks. Customers typically visit a supermarket or convenience store to buy a range of products – not just alcohol. If they find they cannot buy alcohol in a store, they are likely to take their full business elsewhere, possibly in the long term. This could lead to the permanent closure of stores, resulting in the loss of employment and less competition in a locality.

48. Late Night Levy

49. Chapter 2 of the Bill states that Local Authorities will be given the power to impose a late night levy on all premises licensed to sell alcohol between midnight and 6 am. The funds raised will cover ‘costs of policing and other arrangements for the reduction or prevention of crime and disorder in connection with the supply of alcohol between midnight and 6 am.’

50. The BRC does not believe this blanket levy is a fair response to problems associated with specific areas of the night time economy. This proposal would not discriminate between stores that are simply open late and serving a local need, such as shift workers, and those that are trading irresponsibly and adding to local problems. Powers to deal with these irresponsible traders already exist.

51. The introduction of any levy should only take place if there is proven disorder. The amount levied on business should be transparent and based on evidence of the actual extra costs of policing. The Bill Impact Assessment shows that the levy is anticipated to cost a licensee more than their annual licence fee [4] . More than doubling fees for being open late would put many businesses under unsustainable pressure as well as being unfair and unrelated to the actual cost of local problems.

52. Industry contributions to the costs of the night time economy can be secured voluntarily through Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) [5] . BIDs have successfully been used to deal with the night time economy in Nottingham, Birmingham Broad Street [6] and Kingston [7] . There is a concern that, if businesses are compelled to contribute to this levy, this may use the funding that would have been invested in BIDs or Community Alcohol Partnerships (CAPs).

53. The retail sector is concerned about the fragile economic climate. The sector is anticipating 2011 will be particularly challenging as the impact of the VAT rise and weak consumer confidence, coupled with spending cuts, business rate increases and National Insurance rises all start to have an effect. Increasingly the sector is seeing proposals to raise funds for a number of different projects or bodies coming through.

54. The retail sector, which operates on small margins compared to many other business sectors, will be unable to meet the number of financial demands being made upon it, without passing rises on to consumers, scaling back on voluntary initiatives or reviewing employment levels or opportunities. With the retail sector being one of the few to continue to recruit during the downturn [8] , this increasing pressure on business costs may well have considerable consequences.

55. Further relevant issues:

56. The Government has indicated that it will also introduce additional measures through a non-legislative route (amending the Statutory Guidance Section 182). Many of these measures are no less significant than those discussed above and will also add additional cost and bureaucracy to licensees. These include:

57. Changing the weight of recommendations from the Police

58. There will be a presumption that all reasonable recommendations from the Police should be accepted, unless there is ‘clear evidence to the contrary’. This will remove Licensing Authorities’ discretion in deciding what measures are best for the community and could lead to businesses having to fund unnecessary measures. Currently there is no evidence that Licensing Authorities routinely disregard Police recommendations; yet it is important that they have the power to do so in cases when it is not appropriate.

59. Cumulative Impact

60. The evidential base required for the introduction of a Cumulative Impact Policy will be reduced. In 2009 139 Cumulative Impact Policies were introduced [9] , demonstrating that the current guidelines are workable. Reducing the evidential base further is a worrying trend towards less effective local policies.

61. Related Concerns

62. Better Regulation

63. The Coalition has committed to reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens on businesses. A key part of this promise is the ‘one in one out rule’ where any new regulations would only be introduced if unnecessary regulation was first removed. We have yet to see any areas of possible deregulation that would match the cost of these proposals. Government also consulted on repealing the Mandatory Conditions (implemented in the Policing and Crime ACT 2009) and we are disappointed that this action will not be taken forward.

64. It is important that the deregulation that accompanies this Bill is real deregulation. The removal of legislation that is currently not used or implemented, whilst welcome in terms of tightening up the Statute Book, will not result in any saving, both in terms of cost and the time taken, for businesses and licensing authorities.

65. Impact on Grocery Sector

66. Grocery retailers do not just sell alcohol. The average supermarket stocks over 30,000 product lines and is relied upon by customers for the full range of food and drink purchases. The BRC is concerned that, if measures contained in this Bill place too restrictive a burden on those seeking an alcohol licence, the local community will not just be without a premises at which to buy alcohol, they may be denied choice in the grocery market, thereby stifling local competition. We entirely accept that rigorous procedures must be in place to ensure alcohol licenses are only given or renewed to responsible traders, but if objections or comments are accepted without a strong evidence base, the implications go wider than simply the availability of alcohol.

January 2011

[1] Hansard HC Standing Committee D, 10 April 2003, Col 222

[2] The Home Office: Reducing the risk of violent crime, National Audit Office, Feb 2008

[3] Police Reform & Social Responsibility Bill Impact Assessment, Home Office, Dec 2010, Pg. 13

[4] Police Reform & Social Responsibility Bill Impact Assessment, Home Office, Dec 2010, Pg. 20

[5] Dunfermline BID Brings Improvements in Crime Statistics as Well as Business, BIDS Scotland, 9 July 2010

[6] http://www.broadstreet.co.uk/broad-street-business-improvement-district/

[7] http://www.kingstonfirst.co.uk/about/safer-streets.htm

[8] The BRC-Bond Pearce Retail Employment Monitor shows that, in Q3 2010, retail employment increased by 2.1% compared to the same time the previous year.

[9] DCMS, alcohol, entertainment & late night refreshment licensing statistics , 2009 http://www.culture.gov.uk/what_we_do/research_and_statistics/4865.aspx