Last Friday I had a meeting in Manchester followed by a client lunch where we were pre-occupied with discussing how our businesses were going to cope with the Coronavirus outbreak. None of us realised that a week later, the leisure and gambling industries would be so badly affected or by the pace of change. I didn’t anticipate then that I would have asked all of my staff to start working from home and put us into almost isolation. Technology is a wonderful thing and it is amazing that we can keep our business going through remote access to our systems. This doesn’t come anywhere near to the social interaction that we have through the workplace.
A usual Friday morning in the office, in dress down clothing and with a fantastic breakfast sandwich from Nosh, is one of the best days of the working week.
So much has changed at such speed.
On Monday and Tuesday of this week, all of our outstanding hearings at licensing authorities around the Country were stood down. These were some review hearings and some premises licence applications that had valid representations. In all of those cases we have been told that the likelihood is that these will not be relisted until after May. This is obviously going to put breaks on the development plans of a number of companies. We also have a number of applications which are currently running through their notice periods and if they receive valid representations, it is in doubt a hearing on those particular will be listed.
I did notice last night that Wandsworth Council held a remote hearing where technology was used to get everybody to remotely log into the hearing.
I have had this previously where I was permitted to dial into a summary review interim steps hearing even though I was away on holiday. It just shows that there is the ability and technology to set this up should we enter a prolonged period of isolation. Gary Grant, the Licensing Specialist Barrister from FTB Chambers, wrote an excellent article entitled ‘Licensing hearings during the Coronvirus crisis.’ This article set out the fact that there is an ability for remote hearings to take place. He highlights that there is no legal bar to holding a Licensing Sub-Committee using remote technology. This will be practically very difficult, albeit legally possible, in that most authority areas have started to send their staff home to work remotely as well. This is to continue and the likelihood is that applications will be adjourned rather than more remote hearings.
There are clearly significant operational issues that come about whilst premises are still open. It is critical that the licensing objectives are promoted by operators who choose to stay open and conditions on premises licences will need to be complied with. If anyone has any confusion of where we are on this then please contact us directly by mobile number or email.
In addition, the Business Crime Hub from the Metropolitan Police Service have sent out a very helpful note in relation to their position moving through unprecedented times.
Our colleagues in Scotland have been grappling with the issues as well and Glasgow City Council have sent out a very clear “advice and guidance for current licence holders and new applicants on changes to our licensing service.” This is to last for the period of Covid-19 outbreak.
This highlights that there are to be no face to face appointments. All planned meetings with the licensing and regulatory committee and the City of Glasgow Licensing Board have been postponed.
In addition, they are asking that only the most essential applications are submitted and if they are submitted, they should be sent by electronic means rather than paper work.
Glasgow have moved very quickly to set out a very clear guidance document which can be found at the following link – http://www.sllp.co.uk/TWLinks/C19.pdf. We understand that most other Scottish Licensing Boards are offering similar advice to clients.
The Gambling Commission is sending out regular notifications as to their expectations during these testing times.
In the most recent email sent yesterday, the Commission highlighted that they are following Public Health England’s Guidance and have told all staff to work from home until further notice. They have set out that the Commission has set out a well-practiced and comprehensive business continuity plan that they have invoked with the intention of minimising the impact on their regulatory and advice services.
The Gambling Commission have highlighted that whilst these current circumstances create unprecedented changes to daily life, that these changes will also increase the risks to some individuals which mean that despite the fact that these are changing times, customers must be protected by operators.
They set out “first and foremost we expect all our licensees to follow the applicable Public Health guidance, which I am confident you will already be doing. Where facilities for Gambling are being offered, we expect all our licensees to ensure that they have sufficient management, staffing and an oversight in place to maintain compliance with the LCCP that apply to their licences.
The social distancing measures that are being put in place will mean that more people will be at home and we would like to remind online operators that they must continue to act responsibly, especially in regard to individual customer affordability and increase social responsibility interactions.” – Neil McArthur. This is a clear message that the Gambling Commission expects licensed operators to be increasing their social responsibility principles during this period. In addition, the Gambling Commission have written to us directly to ask that we do not send any documents by post. All documents to be received are expected to be scanned and sent electronically.
They are currently deciding how to proceed with personal licences, usually they require an original identification to be provided but are going to be determining how to deal with this during the currency of the outbreak.
It is clear that the Gambling Commission is seeking to provide a service as close to normal working life as possible.
The taxi licensing sector is going to be seriously affected through the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Government guidance is that no driver should be working if they have a new continuous cough and/or high fever and should obviously at that point self-isolate.
Drivers of Hackney Carriage or private hire vehicles, Hackney Carriage and private hire proprietors and private hire operators have responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to both themselves and those who are likely to come into contact with their business.
We would hope to see that taxi licensees are frequently cleaning and disinfecting objects and surfaces that are touched regularly.
They will have been reminded of the following document – http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?f=001ORzch4VgR_8_4jtHWPrUhWWXUFEwPk1_yOx0G_BvwCVE3JgV7KFDkHPQLVdB6-mnHKtXBIf9D1jSjJ734LV2TMR1XtsIMLvnHr9xulnjGD30DGLmenz_JiAMNHnev78MjVN8LtMIFJ0dgvo3_cwki5eaFxCXB7J0IRcX4z7jb90l5Q_bpeiomNoX5NFdfxuU2zTS8JXMfav1GTWBRLaxHyArFqnXeanjwAiOWwOeItGPSPaEYk044ST_yHdsvMDrCGNbEvLJz_2Dn14ayhV5vPYxQ46JOAmwQOE0Y7l0K5Wj6JEQsl3AMNcnumKAjhM4EXaLUrIFGzUSIs-e3jhnTfqOTjxvuvOUcxOMbI8jQJI=&c=8o17pjsQEdLRrknxnpRasOps3Ta5IG1AoK62O9nwvRAR5wEMVqqstw==&ch=BlkNCzs5PWMCwu2JegPktSao_dEXzv_JXLr8B99FSikLegMQ4yKqRQ.
We are certain that taxi’s will continue to play a vital role in the movement of people through these difficult times.
It is now becoming clear that we are going to be in a protracted period of different working practices. We hope that everyone will look to make the licensing process and regulatory remit as user-friendly as possible during this period. I have had a significant number of messages from operators asking how our team is and the element of interaction has been high. This is at a time when their own businesses are closing for public safety reasons.
Having being in the leisure sector for over 30 years, I can attest to the fact that they are a resilient bunch. It’s now imperative that the Government give significant financial support so that these businesses, viable until the outbreak of the Coronavirus, have the ability to come through the other side and provide the much needed distractions that we will all be looking forward to by then. The measures so far announced don’t go far enough and it is hoped that the Councillor will be making more practical announcements later today which can come into effect very quickly. A significant number of my clients have been posting that they are now closing voluntarily until we are through the worse of the virus. These are fabulous responsible operators, viable businesses, who deserve to be supported by central Government.