The Local Government Association has responded to the Institute of Alcohol Studies report on the Licensing Act. One area which the LGA comment on is the issue of fees for licensing applications, “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 this issue must be resolved”. Followers of the licensing legislation will know that locally set fees were being mooted up until the late night levy started to be promoted by the Home Office. However, with the late night levy stuttering around the country there is now some growing pressure to look at locally set licensing fees again. This could well be a bespoke solution to some localised issues. We will obviously keep an eye on this and see what future developments take place.
Councillor Tony Page, Licensing Spokesman at the Local Government Association, went on to say “While councillors do not shrink from fighting legal appeals, there is no doubt that there is sometimes an imbalance in the resources available to councils and the trade when approaching legal hearings. This is not helped by the fact that councillors are already subsidising licences to trade because current fee levels, set way back in 2005, are too low compared with the costs of running the system”.
This is clearly an interesting feature and there is sure to be greater pressure to increase these fees if the LGA feel that the cost of running the system is disproportionate to the revenue created by the fee structure.
He went on to say “This report also follows calls by councils for greater powers to limit the opening of late night premises where there are concerns about the impact of alcohol on public health. Nine out of ten directors of public health say adding a public health objective to the Licensing Act would help them do their jobs more effectively by helping curb the saturation of communities with pubs, clubs and off licences selling alcohol”.
This again brings the issue of a fifth licensing objective back in to the debate. We had the introduction of the Local Health Board as a responsible authority, but not the introduction of the promotion of health as a licensing objective, which has always, in my experience, made it very difficult for the health body to put in a relevant representation without the “hook” of a licensing objective to hang their representation on. Tony Page went on to say “Public health funding issues make it even more important for government to ensure local authorities have the same powers as those in Scotland which have been able to consider health implications – such as hospital admissions and local addiction levels – in relation to licensing applications since 2005. Giving councils new powers to refuse licence applications on health grounds where there are grounds to do so will also save money from the public purse by reducing NHS costs dealing with alcohol related issues”.
We will continue to monitor all developments and potential changes to the licensing landscape.
The full Institute of Alcohol Studies document “The Licensing Act (2003): uses and abuses ten years on can be found at the below link.