Eleventh-hour alert over licensing rejig

20 August, 2010

Drinks retailers are being urged to make their voices heard as the government rushes through consultation over radical changes to licensing in England and Wales.

Some of the proposals put forward by the Home Office would hand greater powers to local authorities and the police, increase licensing fees and allow more public objections to new licences.

The consultation period ends on September 8 and there are fears that retailers are unaware of some of the implications of the proposals because so much attention has been focused on plans for a ban on below-cost sales.

In a letter to OLN, licensing solicitor John Gaunt said Home Office workshops have not been well supported by retailers. “Trade representatives appear a very small minority,” he said. “Licensing officers, representatives from the police and health lobby are out in some force.”?He added: “We recommend all those active in the trade take a break from their holiday and take the trouble to read the consultation. These are some of the most far-reaching reforms of the licensing system and merit serious and balanced consideration. We do not believe they are getting that consideration.”?The Wine & Spirit Trade Association is co-ordinating a response to the proposals and is hosting a meeting of members today (Friday). Communications chief Gavin Partington said there was particular concern about proposals for local authorities to act as “judge, jury and executioner” with new powers to not only instigate a licensing review, but to decide the outcome.

“There are some serious implications that were perhaps not apparent when the idea of a licensing review was first mooted,” he said.

“Early conversations suggested they were simply seeking to rebalance the Licensing Act rather than go for a wholesale review. Some of the permutations would seemingly go beyond that, so it’s all the more important for us to think seriously about the implications.”?Many multiple retailers are expected to make their own submissions. One draft response seen by OLN urges government to return licensing hearings to magistrates’ courts and for a nationally applied licensing policy. It argues the Home Office plans “would be likely to result in illegal, unfair and inequitable outcomes” in licensing hearings.

The consultation document can be found online at bit.ly/bkZ4Gq.

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