Report of the Strategic Director, Communities and Environment
The Committee received a report to update members on the Government response to the report from the House of Lords Select Committee on the Licensing Act 2003.
The Select Committee was set up in May 2016 with the task of conducting post-legislative scrutiny of the Act. The Committee looked at the provision of the Act, in its original form with its subsequent amendments, at its implementation and at related developments.
A public call for written evidence was made on 30 June 2016 from anyone with an interest in the operation of the Licensing Act 2003, Gateshead Council contributed to a regional response through the North East Strategic Licensing Group which then fed into the Local Government Association response.
In particular the Committee were interested in a number of issues including:
· should there be additional objectives eg the protection of health and wellbeing
· does the Licensing Act now achieve the right balance between the rights of those who wish to sell alcohol and provide entertainment and the rights of those who wish to object?
· do local communities engage effectively in the licensing regime, and if not, what could be done?
· how effectively does the regime control supermarkets and large retailers, under-age sales, and delivery services?
· shouldthe Government introduce minimum unit pricing in England?
· do licence fees need to be set at national level?
Some of the issues raised through the region included:
· The lack of a national database of personal licence holders, allowing unsuitable applicants to move between councils as and when their premises get shut down.
· The absence of many Designated Premises Supervisors (DPS) from the premises itself and the general weakness of this role
· Weaknesses in the review/appeals system that allows unscrupulous operators to transfer the licence or delay closure for significant periods of time
· Concerns around enforcing the duty plus VAT mandatory condition
· The fact that a licence cannot be refused where a business owes the council unpaid business rates
· The fact that licences cannot be removed where a premises has ceased trading and, in some cases, where it has been turned into a carpark. This means a council has to carry the debt from unpaid fees in perpetuity, and distorts the national picture of how many licences are in existence.
The report contained over 70 recommendations including a trial merger of Licensing and Planning Committees, an equivalent to a planning inspectorate which hears planning appeals, all councillors sitting on Licensing Committee should undertake compulsory training, if a minimum unit price is brought into force in Scotland, following assessment, it should be introduced in England and Wales.
The select Committee did say that the Act requires overhaul, however, the government has said that there is not going to be an overhaul and they have rejected the Committee’s proposals to merge Licensing and Planning Committees. It also is not going to change the requirement to publish in the local newspapers. It is going to consider minimum unit pricing.
RESOLVED - that the information contained within the report be noted.