Comment by: Jeremy Veitch
Focus area: Pubs
Regulator concerned: My comments are general and do not relate to a particular regulator or regulatory function
I have spent 40 years involved with licensed premises largely pubs and since the 2003 Licensing Act with 140 local authorities in respect of licensing for a major company.
There are many reasons for the demise of community public houses but certainly a major factor is the severe cost and regulatory burden since the inception of the 2003 Act. Licensing and public houses as commercial businesses were understood by the magistrates and the vast majority of licences were free of conditions whilst a Justices Licence was set at a low and manageable cost. We now have pages of burdensome conditions at enormous cost to the operators set by local authorities with limited understanding, or it seems in many cases, concern for the businesses on which they are impacting. There is limited consistency between authorities or police from area to area. We will soon see the escalation of these costs by Late Night Levies and increases to licence fees impacting on all, rather than targeted at the real late night economy. Even under the old legislation no additional payment was requested for extended hours at bank holidays, vital to the community pub, which will be the case if a Levy is in operation.
The vast majority of pubs are well run, a huge asset to the local community and a credit to this country and its economy. It has always been in their interest to work with all the responsible authorities. In so many areas unfortunately they are consistently having to deal with major enforcement initiatives as if they are the reason for all the problems within our society. Instead they provide a huge benefit to the local community and particularly a safe environment for younger drinkers. We all know that the young will often have several drinks at home before going near the town centres for their night out, as the cost of doing this at a pub is too high, which is another story. However the enforcers target and take action against the pubs on a regular basis by mounting test purchase under age “sting” operations, which have fearsome repercussions for in so many cases, well run businesses trying to do their best. I have never heard of a case and so whenever I have asked the question as to why no action is taken against the genuine underage drinker, I am told that the Government does not want to criminalise young persons. If a fine or community service was levied and parents were involved the impact on the otherwise perpetual offender and his/her friends would be marked. Pubs would welcome and work with the authorities to this end but they are trying to run a business which is becoming more and more difficult with added bureaucracy and red tape.
I have often seen very formal warning letters about a Licence Summary not being on display or a window open when it should have been closed. Often there has been no approach to the pub in the first instance, when a stern but friendly word would have done the trick. These letters often begin “On a recent enforcement visit…..” It is simple to catch a premises out on non compliance with a licence condition, which is often poorly written and one of a multitude often in conflict with each other.
The hours put in by persons running community public houses which have become less and less profitable is very onerous indeed. I sometimes wonder if amongst certain local authority officials there is not a concern to justify their employment by someone working a fraction of the hours and unavailable after 5.00pm.
Of course I am not talking about all local authorities but generally there is a need for a far more consistent approach and to let publicans run their businesses without unnecessary interference, as in most cases they are perfectly able to do.