COVID-19 Licensing Update
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The Institute of Licensing (IoL) National Training Conference was held at the Crowne Plaza in Stratford-upon-Avon between Wednesday 20 and Friday 21 November 2019.
With over 60 speakers across the three-day event talking on a range of licensing matters that affect the hospitality sector, it was no wonder that upwards of 500 delegates from local authorities, law firms, police, the trade and independent practitioners attended from across the UK.
The IoL prides itself on being inclusive, covering a broad range of licensing issues and provides support and guidance to the hospitality industry. For example, the institute had notable involvement in the Lucy’s Law campaign, which saw UK-wide legal reform to tackle animal abuse.
The conference opened with speeches from Paddy Tipping, Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire on his force’s efforts to focus on education and safety in the night time economy, followed by Mark Burtonwood, Deputy Director of Operations for Security Industry Authority, who provided insight to the considerable work that the SIA has done to improve the image and practices of the security sector.
First up on the agenda was a session on gambling in pubs. Not only did this session provide us with an insight into the best practice of having gaming machines in licensed premises, but also the measures that a premises should be employing to ensure that machines are not being used by children.
With technology playing an ever-increasing role in protecting young people from gambling in licensed premises, it was interesting to discover that some machines are now able to send a message to nominated persons at the premises to go and check the age of the person playing once they arrive at the machine.
This is a good step forward, given the recent test purchase operation across England and Wales by the Gambling Commission, which resulted in an 88% failure rate for premises.
Next up was an update on minimum unit pricing for alcohol in Scotland. With this coming into force in Wales at the start of March 2020, we have reviewed the actual alcohol sales data presented for the 12 months pre-MUP and the 12 months after its implementation in Scotland. The data makes for very interesting reading, and the idea that minimum unit pricing was going to be the ‘whole population solution’ or ‘targeted silver bullet’ it was purported to be, is looking doubtful.
The next session attended was a debate interestingly titled ‘When is a licence lapse, not a lapse?’. This is an important question as premises licences can be held jointly. So what happens if one licence holder cannot remain following the death, insolvency or lack of capacity of the other partner?
Despite the licence lapse being immediate, the audience, which was largely comprised of local authority professionals, said that they would take a pragmatic approach should such an application to transfer come in beyond the 28-day transfer window.
However, it was interesting to hear about the case of Beauchamp -v- Coventry City Council where once the application to reinstate Beauchamp Pizza Ltd to the Register of Companies following dissolution on an administrative level was confirmed to be retrospective, it was deemed that company had never dissolved.
So, did the licence lapse and was the operator trading illegally for the months it took to re-instate the company?
It would be a risk to open the premises in this situation as reinstatement is not guaranteed, but as the company was solvent, all ended well. However, District Judge Cooke did remark that “Things could be very different for a company unable to pay its debts”.
Day two opened with a highly informative and quite amusing look at why even ‘Millennials’ are now starting to fall behind in technology terms with the younger generations. You may not think that this has much to do with licensing, but as a regime designed to regulate activities, it is quite startling to see and learn how adept technology has made the digital generation at finding new trends which has a massive future impact to the hospitality sector.
In the next session, which was run by both a licensing solicitor and a senior figure within a large national pub company, a question was asked of licensing authority officers, ‘Is there a change in attitude and expectations when a site moves from being independently operated to a corporate operator?’.
Whilst some believed this to be the case, the general consensus was that such a change of ownership does not automatically lead to a shift in expectations from the authorities. There was felt to be an almost sense of relief in the knowledge that a corporate ownership structure would bring a more “professional” style of operation to the pub leading to more robust procedures – something that licensing authorities welcome. There was agreement, however, that the change did not always mean the authorities would be seeking further conditions and policies to attach to their licence.
Whilst the conversation turned towards overall expectation that a large hospitality company is likely to have a higher overall expectation placed on it if nothing else than for reputational reasons, it was recognised that authorities need to greater consider the cause of any issues, rather than the outcome when considering enforcement.
The final day of the conference opened with a talk from Lord Smith of Hindehead, Chairman of the Best Bar None initiative and Chief Executive of The Association of Conservative Clubs, followed by a highly insightful speech from Night Czar, Amy Lamé, which looked into the extensive studies conducted into the makeup of the London Night Time Economy and the direction of travel for the city. If you are into your statistics, I would highly encourage you to have a look at what has been produced by the London Night Czar’s team below. You can view the full report here.
The key message to take away is that our licensing sector is hugely varied and complicated, made even more so by the pace of emerging and changing technologies, trends and activities.
Advances in new technological developments present the licensing sector with a wealth of opportunities to grasp and equal challenges to overcome. To continue to stay effective, the industry’s regulators and authorities will need to continue to collaborate and work in partnership with the trade to ensure the sector develops and thrives.
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