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Licensing Act has put significant strain on councils and police forces

Pub owners have benefited from the Licensing Act 2003 more than local councils, in part due to misinterpretation of the law, a new report has warned.

The report, released by the Institute of Alcohol Studies to look at the Act’s effects 10 years after it came into force on 24 November 2005, found that the legislation has failed to lead to a relaxed continental drinking culture or to a more diverse drinking culture.

Instead, it says that it has meant people drink more at home before going out and stay out later, meaning police forces have had to direct more resources and staff to night-time shifts.

Jon Foster, lead author of the report, said: “Over the last 10 years business interests have too often won out over local communities. Very late closing times suck in police resources and mean that there are less officers available to do community police work during the rest of the week.

“Local councils could help themselves more by paying closer attention to the Act and case law in order use licensing more assertively, but there is also a need for the government to better support councils against challenge from the licenced trade.

“Funding is also a key issue for many councils, because of the fact that the fee system within the Act does not always enable councils to recoup their costs properly.”

The report also warns that licensing fees have not increased in 10 years, meaning that councils have to subsidise the licensing system at a cost of approximately £1.5m of taxpayers’ money a month.

It also says that because of national government spending cuts, many councils have had to cut licensing staff and are not able to ensure proper oversight of licensed proprietors.

Tony Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner for Cornwall and chair of the Police and Crime Commissioner Alcohol Group, said: “The relaxation of licensing hours 10 years ago has contributed to a seismic shift in drinking behaviours. Alongside the later opening of venues we have seen the growth of the phenomenon of pre-loading. People are increasingly entering our town centres much later at night and often having already consumed large amounts of alcohol at home. This can make them particularly vulnerable and places significant pressures on policing and on wider support networks like street pastors.

“The licensing framework is a critical tool in managing alcohol related harm and I welcome this comprehensive work by the Institute of Alcohol Studies which shines a light on some of the real challenges we face with the current licensing regime. It is important that we all work together to deliver key improvements to the system.

“We must ensure that the licensing system enables public bodies to act early when necessary to keep people safe and communities secure. We must also ensure that local authorities have the right skills, support and resources to take action where they need to and that we encourage all public bodies to use the existing laws to their full potential.”

The report recommends allowing councils to set local licensing fees and develop a licensing strategy, with regard for crime and child protection issues.

Cllr Tony Page, licensing spokesman at the LGA, said: “The LGA has long argued that locally set licensing fees will enable councils to recover the cost of applications better and it is encouraging that the report recognises that this issue must be resolved.”

He added that licensed trade often have more resources than councils in licensing hearings, and that granting local authorities more powers over licensing would reduce the burden of binge drinking on the NHS.

Its other recommendations include better application of guidance under the Act, including specialist legal advice for councils, introducing health and wellbeing and sustainability objectives for councils, and better engaging local residents in licensing, following a pilot project in Westminster to provide advice on licensing, and introducing a flexible late night levy to fund night-time policing.

Under reforms introduced last year, councils will require government permission to implement large-scale licensing schemes.

In December, the LGA called for a national database to stop rogue landlords switching postcodes to avoid obtaining a licence.

(Image c. Alastair Grant from AP/ Press Association Images)


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