Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation Ninth Report

Annex B

Response to the [1995] Consultation Paper on the Proposed Changes to the Law on Sunday Observance and Liquor Licensing Relating to Public Dances on Sundays

1. Introduction

1.1  Thank you for giving the British Resorts Association the opportunity to contribute to the above consultation. The Association represents some 53 Local Authorities with substantial coastal tourism interests. Included within this number are the majority of the large and medium-sized traditional seaside resorts, together with many of the most popular rural coastal areas. A membership list is at Annex A.

2. Coastal Tourism and the Impact of the Current Legislation

2.1  The Value of Coastal Tourism. Coastal tourism accounts for just under 50% of all domestic tourism activity by both volume and value. The 1993 United Kingdom Tourism Statistic (UKTS) estimates the value of all domestic tourism at £6 billion, of which, £3 billion was attributed to the coast. However, a more recent and detailed study conducted in the North West estimates at £550 million alone and it is therefore not unreasonable to assume that the UKTS may represent a conservative estimate.

2.2  Seasonality and Bank Holidays. Despite great efforts to breakdown the seasonal nature of domestic tourism, a greater proportion of the activity, particularly in the coastal belt, is concentrated into the 6 months, April through to October, with strong peaks over the Bank Holiday weekends.

2.3  The Visitors' View of Sundays. Holidaymakers do not pay particular attention to the days of the week, especially if they are staying for anything more than a couple of days. Singling out Sundays for restricted trading, in an already limited season has a major impact on many operators. Again this is particularly apparent over the bank holidays where the third and last night of the holiday period carries severe restrictions.

2.4  Visitors' Access to Functions and Events. Many businesses are able to circumvent the restrictions by use of such permissible ploys as club membership and other, apparently none permissible ploys, such as pre-selling tickets or increasing charges for associated services. In general, these loopholes demand an element of pre-planning which does not necessarily fit well with the impulse driven nature of holiday activities and the demands of the average tourists. Where events do take place on a Sunday and visitors have to be excluded because of the restrictions, it can create an unwelcoming atmosphere which will almost certainly damage the tourism environment.

2.5  Lost Potential Income. The net effect is that a major British industry is losing the opportunity to trade to its maximum capacity on something approaching 15 percent of the available days in any already seasonally restricted year. In financial terms this is extremely difficult to quantify accurately, but clearly it will represent a considerable sum in lost potential income. To illustrate the likely scale of the potential profit and the current losses we would cite one local authority run establishment chosen at random. On a normal weekday New Year's Eve the venue would hold a public dinner dance. This event would sell out several months in advance and the 600 guests would generate a minimum turnover of £5,000. This event cannot take place in 1995 unless of course the legislation is amended. The particular local authority concerned currently issues something in the order of 120 similar entertainment licenses to premises within its area. Of these, 32 are also effected by special hours licenses.

2.6  Administrative Burden. Many venues do hold various events on Sundays despite the limitations imposed. In order to do so, the terms and conditions of entertainment and liquor licenses often demand that separate and/or additional authority is sought. This additional administrative burden would be removed if Sundays were treated in the same way as any other day of the week as you propose. Again it is difficult to quantify the current costs, but given that applications have to be drafted, checked submitted, considered and then authorised or rejected, the workload is not insignificant. This involves the licensee, the licensing authority and usually a third party acting in the capacity of a legal adviser.

2.7  International Competition. Many resort areas have suffered a loss of traditional low spend holiday business. This has been replaced in many areas by a lower volume of much higher spending trade, competing directly with the foreign out bound holiday market. The appeal of foreign holidays to certain segments of the customer base, particularly the younger element, has much to do with the popular perception that foreign destinations have a more relaxed attitude towards the provision of night life and entertainment. The current legislation with its archaic restrictions in England and Wales does not therefore, help the British resorts to compete on equal terms with some of the more popular comparable destinations abroad. Your proposals will not put British resorts on an equal footing, but they will at least go some way to help redress the balance.

3. The Requirement

3.1  Public Dancing. We believe that it should be permissible to sell tickets or make other suitable charges for entry by the public to dances, discotheques or other similar events on a Sunday under the terms and conditions applied locally on any other day of the week. This would allow functions to be judged on merit, while still allowing for rejection on Sundays, if local circumstances or local attitudes demanded it.

3.2  Liquor Licensing. We also believe that exactly the same provisions should be made for applications to extended licensing hours on Sundays. Again adequate safeguards exist, should extended hours be deemed to be inappropriate to the local circumstances.

4. Implementation Timetable

4.1  The Constraint. We are grateful that you have identified the requirement for rapid action and the news that Christmas and New Year celebrations 1995 are your targets. We would, however, caution you that if the arrangements are not put in place early enough, whilst it will still be technically possible to hold a public dance, the practical problems of making the necessary arrangements will preclude it. If the timetable is not carefully considered, your laudable efforts to assist the industry will only result in you becoming the target of largely unfair criticism.

4.2  Applications. We estimate that in order for the licensing authorities to consider applications in time for Christmas Eve the changes must be in force by 1 November 1995. Realistically, allowing for time to disseminate information and call the necessary meeting of the authorising bodies, the legislation would need to be in place by mid-October at the latest.

4.3  Planning events. Having consulted with operators, they have indicated that they really need to know what the arrangements are likely to be 12 months in advance. They then need to be able to confirm details by no later than July or early August. Many operators are already assuming that they will require such things as bands and have made provision bookings, but many more are unaware of the consultation and the potential opportunity. It may not be necessary, or indeed practical to ensure legislation is in place before the summer recess in July, but by that date it would be advisable to confirm the likely timetables and further publicise the intention to amend the regulations.

4.4  Delaying Beyond the New Year. We have considered whether you would be advised to delay the implementation beyond New Year 1995 thus avoiding the difficulties already outlines. Unfortunately, having indicated within the consultation the desire to achieve the changes for Christmas 1995, you have already raised expectations. If you now fail to deliver, this will again create a critical backlash, particularly as some operators have already begun to commit themselves on the assumption that the change will be implemented by Christmas.

4.5  Resort Timetable. From the point of view of our members, a change of legislation cannot come too soon. While Christmas and New Year celebrations are major events for them, they present only a fraction of the annual business, most of which is largely concentrated in the summer months. If the legislation were put in place tomorrow, clearly there would be a considerable opportunity to exploit the changes throughout the rest of the summer season. As the days pass the number of exploitable Sundays within the season obviously reduces as does the potential benefit.

5. Summary

5.1  The Association are delighted that you have identified a need to act on the issues of Sunday dance and liquor licensing. We firmly believe that the proposal will greatly assist our multibillion pound industry to increase its profitability and its contribution to the UK economy. It will also assist the domestic holiday market to compete on more equal terms with its comparable foreign competitors. Your proposal also has the distinct advantage that adequate safeguards will remain in place and that where local circumstance or local attitudes demand it, licenses can be refused on Sundays.

5.2  Our only concern regards the proposed timetable and the potential for unnecessary dispute. Having indicated a desire to implement the proposal so that it can be used during Christmas 1995, it is important that you do so. This demands that legislation is in place by mid-October at the latest. Ideally, in place by late July. From the resort point view point, anything earlier would represent a bonus in the form of a clear opportunity to exploit the new regulation during what remains of the 1995 holiday season.

6. Conclusion

6.1  Thank you for asking the British Resorts Association to contribute to the debate concerning these excellent proposals. We would be delighted to expand on any aspects of our response, or indeed offer any assistance which might assist you to bring the changes into force in the earliest opportunity.

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