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Isn't it funny how those that seek to limit what you do dress it up as "much needed reform", "a sensible tidying up", a need to be flexible to address local concerns" and ominously, to improve public health"? The latest view of the Local Government Association about the future of Licensing calls for a complete throwing out of the current (now declared by them as obsolete) licensing system, which for alcohol, was introduced only 10 years ago. In fairness to them, they are considering more than just alcohol licences, as taxis, kebab houses, betting shops and more come under their purview and they do make a sensible case for getting rid of multiple licenses for the same business.

To wind back a little, when the Licensing Act 2003 (which became law at midnight 23rd November 2005) transferred the powers previously vested in magistrates to local authorities and by law, from them to Licensing Committees. The Act laid down several things which must happen, such as Premises Licences which covered the building in which the activity took place and an individual licnce to sell and authorise the sale of alcohol. (I am such a licence holder).

Now comes the bits which allow local discretion. Four compulsory licensing objectives were set out:

  1. the prevention of crime and disorder,
  2. public safety,
  3. prevention of public nuisance, and
  4. the protection of children from harm

These cover most eventualities in that Licensing Committees can add conditions to the premises licence to limit what the establishment can do to ensure compliance with the objectives. Thus it is that hours can be limited, noise can be kept down, plastic glasses can be enforced, as well as may other things. I recall on the course which I took, having to learn all about this in order to pass and be awarded my ticket. There is also an overall "Cumulative Impact Policy" which though not part of the Act, allows Committees to consider whether too many licensed premises in one area might impact on the four objectives.

Can you see much wrong with that? Well I can't, but our dear local authorities do. Putting aside the need to roll together multiple licenses, lets turn to pubs. It was one of the intents of the original Act to make the granting of licences less dependent on local whim and enshrine within a set of objectives, a presumption of "Yes" to applications. Local bureaucrats now feel they should be able to alter these to include taking into account the health impacts in an area, decide locally about withdrawal of licenses on yet to be specified grounds and apply local fees to all of this which will no longer be standard. More worrying would be the introduction of a health provision (which already applies in Scotland and reads "Protecting and improving public health."

Taken as a worst case scenario, where alcohol is concerned they would be able to act on any local whim, (however unreasonable) , increase fees, decide on what affects our health - whatever that might mean - and under the guise of "allowing businesses to flourish" and "hand communities the protection they deserve" ride roughshod over anyone they care to. (I guess they could also do the same for kebab shops and taxis.)

Now it may well be that the LGA is on to something here, but am I alone in thinking they would like to be able to put their fingers more deeply into more pies and charge us more for the privilege? We really need to watch out that this isn't just a subtly disguised bid for money and power.
The LGA report "Open for business. Rewiring licensing." is on line here Blame the LGA for the poor quality photo.