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Wed 8th Jun 2022 - Legal Briefing

You, me and the Jubilee by Leigh Schelvis

Since our last monthly legal briefing, hospitality legislation has continued adapting at a rapid pace, bringing a mixture of support and challenges in the micro and macro economic spheres across the UK. Unfortunately, we are still seeing a continuation of the government’s theme of one step forward and one step back in terms of policies within our sector.  
 
Nationally, it was announced that the government will be granting the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) enhanced powers to combat fake reviews by making it illegal to pay someone to write or host fabricated customer testimonials on platforms such as Tripadvisor, Facebook and Google. This will be a welcome move as it will protect the credibility of businesses in the sector. 
 
We have seen a variety of different approaches adopted by executive authorities across the three jurisdictions. In Scotland, we saw the banning of single-use plastics such as cutlery, plates, drinks stirrers and plastic straws, unless the user requires them for medical reasons. This move saw one of our large clients create an alternative menu just for their Scottish venues to ensure that they were complying with this new measure. In Wales, first minister Mark Drakeford finally confirmed that the remaining covid restrictions were to come to a close as of 30 May. 
 
Meanwhile, in England, premises licences which, pre-pandemic, only permitted the sale of alcohol for consumption on-site will no longer be able to sell alcohol for customers to take away and drink off the premises. Many will recall that this temporary measure for off-sales consumption was brought in to assist operators during the heavy covid restrictions. This concession is set to be scrapped on 30 September 2022, and any premises that wish to maintain this off-sales provision will need to apply for a variation of their premises licence.
 
This is an unwelcome cost for operators to face in order to continue a practice that they have been undertaking for two years. Interestingly, Paul Vegan, of the Neighbourhood Crime Unit, has thrown his hat in the ring and advocated for a more streamlined approach when applying for these amendments. He is encouraging local authorities to approve these permissions by way of a minor variation, which is a quicker and more cost-effective process. The team at John Gaunt & Partners will be keeping an eye on this as it develops.
 
In the hope of rebalancing some of the bureaucracy and red tape of the pre-covid years, the industry waited with bated breath for the proposals of the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill and, most importantly, whether the government would be willing to permanently adopt the pandemic process for obtaining pavement licences. As we trade into the summer months with the hopes of some glorious British weather, a focus on al-fresco dining and drinking will be of great significance. This is hinted at in the Bill, stating it would “empower local leaders to regenerate towns and cities and restore local pride in places”.
 
The largest elephant in the room was, of course, the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, which rocked the country throughout the whole of the bank holiday. The British public made the best of the four days off and packed venues across the land, with Union Jack flags and a good pint in hand. 
 
To the relief of many operators, the government utilised its powers under Section 172 of the Licensing Act 2003 by making an order to extend the hours for the sale of alcohol for licensed premises from Thursday, 2 June, to Saturday, 4 June. We have seen this happen previously during other events of national importance such as royal weddings, and more recently for the 2021 UEFA European Championship Final. The order gave operators two extra hours of trading from 11pm on these days. The big question within the industry is whether the government will again utilise its Section 172 powers for the FIFA World Cup, and if so, will the announcement be made in good time for operators to prepare? 
 
We also saw many businesses apply for temporary event notices (TENs) to host their own special Jubilee events for local communities. We saw many venues fully celebrate this significant occasion, with everything from street parties in the car parks to family fun days. When applying for TENs, our clients were grateful that many local authorities were adopting a pragmatic approach when considering the many applications made during the Jubilee period.
 
These Jubilee TENs appeared to be considered on par with other previous events of national significance. We witnessed councils express an understanding that there will be an element of increased, but temporary, noise emanating from premises, and some provided a slightly more lenient approach when assessing these applications. In contrast, it wasn’t all smooth sailing, and we did experience the occasional enforcement officer that did, quite bizarrely, express concern that their particular local area was not ready for conservative events. 
 
Whatever the form of celebration that was embraced over the long weekend, what was evident was the importance of the role the hospitality sector plays in our local communities and the economy. UK Hospitality, the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) and Hospitality Ulster estimate that around £2bn of trade was obtained during the Jubilee period. It is these events of national significance that provide a platform for our operators, who offer out their venues as spaces for members of their local communities to form tighter social bonds or even create new ones. 
 
The Jubilee presented the opportunity for a much-needed boost that our industry so desperately needed to try and combat the difficult trading period brought about by the pandemic. It has provided operators with a good foundation to tackle the issues which they are facing in our current climate, such as the current cost of living and issues surrounding supply chain and staffing.
 
We are hopeful that the solidarity which has been reinforced through the celebration of the Queen’s Jubilee can provide the sector with good momentum going forward into a great British summer, including a successful England and Wales World Cup football campaign in November (and, fingers-crossed, right through into December as well) through to busy Christmas trading. It is these events where our sector shines the most, and we look forward to seeing more of these important celebrations in the months to come. 
Leigh Schelvis is a senior solicitor at John Gaunt & Partners

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