One of the planks of the Licensing Act 2003 was the public involvement or democratisation of the licensing process so it was somewhat worrying to learn that the government may withdraw its current requirement for alcohol licence notices to be published in local newspapers, warns the Newspaper Society (NS).
Worrying? Yes, on two fronts ... firstly do we as an industry want licensing decisions taking place in camera ... isn't this diametrically opposed to the government's stance on involving local communities in saving local pubs as community assets? If locals don't know, for instance, that yet another pub is to be turned into a Tesco Express of Sainsbury Local, the first that many will know about it are the notices in local newspapers. Whilst I am all for reducing red tape and the ever increasing costs of licensing surely this is disadvantageous to local communities who might wish to save their local pub?
It suggests scrapping the present requirement that those applying for new licences, or making full licence variations, must advertise their applications in a local paper or circular.
According to the home office's impact assessment, the likely annual cost to the regional press industry would be between £6.2m and £7.9m, which would be a welcome saving for pubs and other licensed premises.
The NS believes the proposals would lead to local licensing matters being decided in secret. In a statement opposing the plan, the NS says the proposal "must be rejected" and it has "nothing to do with the government's aims of cutting alcohol-fuelled crime and anti-social behaviour..." It continues:
"Enabling the whole community – not just the immediate 'neighbours' of a venue - to be as informed as possible about new licences and about applications for variations… is itself a vital tool in those aims by enabling the community to raise concerns directly relating to these issues. The role of statutory notices such as licensing applications is as valid today as when they were originally introduced: to ensure that important information which can have a real impact on community life is publicised as widely as possible."A previous government proposal to suspend the requirement to publish planning notices in papers was rejected after publishers campaigned against it. And earlier this year, the Welsh Assembly rejected similar proposals in relation to traffic notices. The NS is to submit a response to the home office alcohol consultation before it closes on 6 February...
What is more worrying is the government shoe-horning this proposal into their consultation on "Delivering the government's policies to cut alcohol fuelled crime and anti-social behaviour." Is this just another back-door way of continuing the assault on ordinary drinkers and the venues that serve them? I should think, that cost aside, most publicans have no problem justifying their licences and the way they administer them in the public arena so why does HMG want councils to reduce the conversation about licensing?
How much more disjointed or disingenuous can this current administration get?
(BTW ... Setec Astronomy is an anagram)