Life's going to get simpler - allegedly

09 February, 2007

I t is no good just blaming the current

government for failure to deliver simpler regulations to the licensed trade. Successive governments have always preached better regulation and the removal of red tape, while systematically loading up their legislative shopping trolley with administrative goodies.

Wade through any week's Statutory ­Instruments to see how much behind-the-scenes legislation goes on . Not many of you, for example, will have noticed that last September policemen actually DID get younger — the minimum age was lowered from 18

and a half to 18. Mind you, there's still not enough of them patrolling the



All this musing has been brought about by the recently-published Simplification Programme from the Department for Culture, Media

& Sport, which includes licensing within its remit. Over the next two to three years, it says,

changes will be made to the regime with the intention of making life simpler for licensees.

A careful look at the programme might suggest that most of the

changes are the result of scathing criticism of the whole confused mess that was transition, and the fact that the forms and procedures were so complex that they were crying out for amendment. But that is translated into: "We have listened to our ­stakeholders (sic ) and our proposals are a result of their feedback."

However, the mills of


grind exceeding slow. It will not be until the back end of 2009 that some of the most urgent changes will eventually be made, says the DCMS.

It might even amend the Licensing Act itself to make things clearer - something which at one stage was firmly ruled out

but seems back in contention after

critical reports.

Last month, another independent ­report appeared on the fee structure for ­licensing, which acknowledged that local councils were somewhat out of pocket from the transition exercise and that the

government should reimburse them around half of the expected shortfall. The licensed trade faces a 7 per cent fee hike over the next three years, after which

government will look at the levels again.

But just as important for the


panel it seems was to convey the general dissatisfaction with some of the red tape

and, in particular, the forms

applicants have to fill out. Not surprisingly, it wants them shortened, and the off-trade particularly will welcome this, as most of the material is redundant for

it (although one off-licence I know has been granted a whole swathe of regulated entertainment, by mistake ).

It would make sense to break with the one-size-fits-all concept in terms of the forms for those who wish

to retail alcohol for consumption off the premises, and also to remove the wasteful requirement to send duplicate notices and paperwork to seven or eight responsible authorities. The


panel thinks it might be adequate to send them some form of simple notification, so that if they had any questions they could find out the details from the licensing department (which is probably the next-door office in the


hall anyway).

There is a proposal that applications should be able to be made electronically, which should have been included from


one . It has been in Scotland and it seems perverse that the majority of people download the forms electronically, fill them in electronically and then have to print them out numerous times simply to accord with an antiquated and somewhat redundant practice.

I have just seen the application forms for gambling, published by the DCMS. Although gambling is a complex

subject, it is as if an entirely different parallel universe exists at the DCMS — the forms are in colour with clear boxes, yards of explanatory notes

including full details of exactly what to fill in, and they can be sent electronically. The premises licence form does not fit on an A4 sheet properly, has complex multiple boxes

and is accompanied by the worst set of guidance notes

I have ever seen. No wonder so many applicants got things wrong.

The depressing aspect of all this is that I have seen many times before statements of intent from

government, together with promises of improvement in systems, and they have either been postponed or ignored in successive years. Eternally the optimist, I hope this time it will be different.

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