New politics for licensed premises?

Posted: Monday, 10 May 2010 @ 10:25

It looks highly likely that there will be a Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition, so what is that likely to mean for licensed premises?

In fact the Election Manifestos of both parties were remarkably similar. Where Labour would have continued with their programme of creeping legislation driven by the tabloid press, will the new coalition offer anything different? It seems that the industry is a soft target which will appeal to the legislators looking for less controversial business to fill the new Parilament.

The Conservatives have promised to ban below cost alcohol, whatever that will mean. The Liberal Democrats have made their preference for minimum pricing well known, but the devil will be in the detail. They will have to steer clear of European anti-competitive laws, and that may be difficult. There is a grave risk that the vast majority of law abiding citizens who benefit from cheap alcohol, and that includes many pensioners, will be hard hit by any minimum pricing. The pub trade will benefit at the expense of the supermarkets, or will it? It will be interesting to see what emerges from the think tank.

The Liberal Democrats have also stated that they will re-introduce the 2 in a bar rule, and will exempt premises with a capacity of less than 200 from the requirement to be licensed for entertainment. The Conservatives have indicated that the agree with that course. That will be good news for many premises who wish to avoid the red tape which has been strangling the small scale live events since the new laws came into force in 2005.

The Liberal Democrats wish to see an automatic review for any premises failing a test purchase. That is draconian. It removes any discretion, and will lead to increased work for licensing authorities. The Conservatives have not gone that far, but they have said in their Manifesto that they intend to increase tjhe powers of the police and licensing authorities, and to allow them to shut down permanently premises persistently selling alcohol to children, and will increase the fine to £20,000. But the licensing authorities and police already have more than sufficient powers. So it is difficult to see why new laws are needed. This is all is depressingly familiar to the Labour policy of reacting to tabloid crticism by passing yet more laws rather than making funds available to enforce the existing adequate laws.

The Conservatives also want to give local authorities the right to charge more for llate-night premises to pay for policing. That will concern many operators in town centres.

On the positive side, there does seem to be a commitment from both parties to help the pub industry with a reform of business rates or at least greater rate relief. A controversial topic will be the reform of the beer tie, but there is a long way to go before that will gain momentum.

Given that the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have similar policies towards the licensed trade, I do expect that there will be changes ahead along the lines outlined above, and I am not convinced of the necessity for change. There will be little good news for the trade, just more red tape.

Nigel Musgrove

Licensing Law Specialist

Blog by Nigel Musgrove
Nigel has been providing dispute resolution advice as a solicitor for over 35 years. As well as advising SMEs and business owners on disputes he also offers a specialist licensing law service. View profile
Call Nigel on +44 (0)1285 847 001 or by email
This blog is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor is it intended to be a complete and authoritative statement of the law, and what we say might be out of date by the time you read it. You should always seek legal advice to confirm whether or how any information in this article applies to your particular situation. We offer a free telephone consultation to discuss your particular circumstances.

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