It’s official – personal licences will not be abolished by Paul Chase
The announcement today that the government will not abolish the personal licence comes as very welcome news indeed. In the past I have expressed some cynicism about whether government actually listens to consultations, or whether it’s just a formal process they go through before doing what they’ve decided to do anyway. I expressed that view at last year’s Institute of Licensing conference to the senior civil servant who addressed us on this issue, and he assured me that the government would take note of the strength of industry feeling. I am pleased to admit that his defence of the Home Office as a department that does listen to consultations has been vindicated, and my cynicism proved wrong!
It’s worth considering how we achieved the industry unity that led the Home Office to this welcome conclusion. I was deeply involved in bringing together industry bodies ALMR, BBPA and BII, and working with them to agree the wording of a joint letter to the Home Office. The letter set out the reasons why personal licence abolition was a bad idea. They in turn communicated with other organisations so that we ended up with a letter that was signed by 13 industry trade bodies as well as CPL Training. These bodies between them represented all the major supermarket, pub and nightclub chains as well as 200,000 independent hospitality businesses and retailers. CPL Training, ALMR and the BII all sent in their own formal responses to the consultation.
In addition, at CPL Training we wrote to all licensing authorities, contacted all our corporate clients as well utilising our database of over 80,000 individual SME pub businesses, urging them to respond to the Home Office consultation. We provided them with a link to a site that expressed our explanation of the issues and why we thought it was vital they should respond to the consultation. Licensing authorities, corporate clients and individuals were able to click through directly to the consultation from our site and make their views known.
The Home Office’s official response to the personal licence abolition consultation states that there were 352 responses received during the consultation period, including 249 online replies, 88 responses by email and 15 by hard copy. Those received from trade bodies obviously were representative of many more people. These responses showed “little overall support for the proposal”. The devil’s in the detail:
• 90% of respondents though the proposal would undermine the licensing objectives.
• 72% did not think the proposal would save time or money for licensed retail business – but of the trade respondents this figure rose to 90%.
• 78% of respondents thought that 90% or more of all premises would require training conditions, compared with 77% of trade respondents who thought that.
Respondents from the trade were broadly concerned that if the proposal was implemented it would lead to inconsistency between licensing authority areas in terms of applying training conditions on premises. This view was broadly reflected in the responses of licensing authorities who welcomed some ‘localisation’ but though this was outweighed by the need to condition lots of licences.
Police respondents also generally opposed the proposal and indicated they would like the system tightening up, but conceded that the current system at lease ensured a minimum standard of training.
Many respondents said that the personal licence was seen as a source of pride and an indication of professionalism in the trade; that removing it would lower the level of training and increase costs and complexity.
A number of additional suggestions were made to the Home Office. Here are some of the more common ones:
• Ensuring a trained personal licence holder was present on the premises at all times.
• The introduction of a tiered training accreditation scheme for those involved in selling alcohol – bronze, silver and gold.
• Introducing a national personal licence holder database.
• Enabling licensing authorities to remove personal licences from the holder.
• A more pro-active approach from the courts ensuring they informed licensing authorities if a holder had committed an offence.
But relax! The government has no plans to action any of these suggestions – at least, not yet.
If we had failed to harness this united response then we would have been left in a position where 400 licensing authorities would be deciding how to separate licensed premises, and categories of staff, into sheep and goats with regard to who needed training and vetting and who didn’t. This would have created a nightmare of complexity and cost, particularly for multiple operators. The government, in its announcement today, appears to have accepted that what operators need from a licensing system is stability and national consistency. Whatever other merits may be attached to a policy of localism, in this instance the government appears to have accepted that consistency and stability should take priority.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Kate Nichols, of the ALMR and Brigid Simmonds, of the BBPA, and their staff for all the hard work they put into dealing with this issue. It is often said that ‘industry unity’ is like pursuing the Holy Grail – often sought after, rarely found! Well we found it this time, and got a result. There’s a lesson in there somewhere I suspect.
Paul Chase is a director of CPL Training and a leading on-trade alcohol and health policy commentator