Last Updated: 16 January 2011
Created: 16 January 2011
As a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group ‘Save the Pub’ and The British Beer and Pub Association, I have been taking a keen interest in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. In particular I’m interested in proposed changes to the Licensing Act 2003 to give licensing authorities, the police and local communities a greater say in licensing decisions. I welcome the thrust of these plans, but there are four key areas I will be keeping a close eye on to make sure we get the right balance between empowering local communities and allowing responsible venues to continue to trade and thrive.
Firstly, early morning restriction orders. These would allow the licensing authority greater flexibility in imposing restrictions on opening times in a particular area, for example all town centre venues could be made to close at midnight. Whilst these additional powers are welcome to tackle problem venues, I believe it should be venue specific, rather than covering a whole area. Why should a venue with no problems be punished for the actions of a neighbouring venue which has a poor record?
Secondly, the late night levy. This enables licensing authorities to introduce a levy payable by premises which supply alcohol as part of the ‘late night economy’, that is trade between midnight and 6am. 70% of such a levy will be paid to the police and crime commissioner. It is also intended to fund bodies which tackle the effect of alcohol-related crime and disorder. I think the principle has merit, since it is in everyone’s interests for there to be a safe environment for customers. It would, though, make sense to involve those businesses paying the levy in deciding how this money should be spent. For example, if the premises believe a taxi-rank coordinator would be an effective use of the levy to help people head home quickly and safely, then surely they know best?
Thirdly, below cost sales. There has been much debate over whether there should be a ban on supermarkets selling alcohol so cheaply. Whilst I understand that the pub industry would welcome an end to this cheap competition, I am not sure how you can actually determine what is ‘below cost’. In any event, should we punish the responsible drinker, especially in times where money is tight?
Finally, underage drinking. There will be a provision to double the maximum fine for premises who persistently sell alcohol to those under 18. The pub industry is calling for this to be replaced by additional training, but in my mind it is surely a case of ‘if in doubt, ask for ID’. Deliberate failure to do that is unacceptable, hence the need for the fine.