Ministers in licence U-turn

THE Scottish Government was forced last week to hastily review its verdict over how the 2005 Act has affected premises licence numbers in Scotland.

As it published its liquor licence statistics for 2010/11, the government initially said the tally of premises licences suggested the “implementation of the Act has had little impact on the long-term trend” of a 4% fall every three years.
But it quickly emerged that the decline was much higher.
Trade groups and solicitors said the government’s comparison between 2007 – the last time the stats were published – and 2011 was inaccurate as while members’ clubs have been factored in to the new statistics they were not in 2007. Members’ clubs have only been governed by mainstream licensing law since the 2005 Act took effect in 2009.
The figures for 2010-11, which reflect the first full-year of the 2005 Act, suggest there were 16,296 premises licences in Scotland. But there were 3000 more in force at December 31, 2007, with the total of 19,263 including 17,021 ‘mainstream’ licences and 2242 registered clubs.
Responding to the trade’s claims, the government said the fact members’ clubs now come under licensing law and that there are now single licences for premises previously subject to multiple licences made comparisons between 2007 and 2010-11 difficult.
But it conceded that numbers may have dropped due to the rise of home drinking and by some businesses like gift shops giving up their licences. “NHS Scotland is currently conducting a major review of the impact of the new licensing regime, and that may provide a fuller picture in due course,” a spokesman told SLTN.
Lawyers and the trade say the decline is beyond dispute, with higher application costs, the smoking ban and the general downturn in the economy chief among reasons why.
SBPA boss Patrick Browne said it’s “undeniable that licensing reform has resulted in a very significant fall in the number of licences” that can’t be accounted for by “operators giving up multiple licences held for the same premises”, a point also made by Lindsays solicitor Stephen McGowan. Lawyer Frances Ennis, of McGrigors, said higher application costs had been key to the decline.