Fresh twist in club v pub row

Ministers hand task of acting on licence abuse claims to boards

THE Scottish Government has no plans to stop members’ clubs accused of abusing the licensing system to the detriment of mainstream operators.

In April, SLTN reported that ministers were weighing up action against clubs that were effectively operating as commercial businesses.
The position was disclosed in a letter to the manager of Bowl 2000, an Elgin bar, restaurant and bowling alley, who claimed clubs in Moray were offering function facilities to the general public without applying for occasional licences.
Clubs were also accused of failing to sign in visitors, which is a requirement under the 2005 licensing Act.
With members’ clubs, which are not for profit, benefiting from reduced licence fees and, in some cases, lower business rates, Bowl 2000’s Marina McLennan said there was an uneven playing field between pubs and clubs in the area.
But a report in legal journal Scottish Licensing Law & Practice revealed that the government will not now be intervening in the row.
A spokesman told SLLP: “We recognise the valuable contribution that members’ clubs make to local communities across Scotland and we have no intention of changing the special status afforded to them.
“While we are aware of issues of alleged abuse, it is a matter for local licensing boards to address these issues.”
Licensing specialist Jack Cummins told SLTN the apparent about-turn was difficult to comprehend – and called on ministers to equip boards with the powers to tackle the issue.
“With so much credible evidence of abuse from the trade it really is remarkable that licensing boards are being told to sort out the problems themselves,” he said.
“The Scottish Government has been repeatedly told that it must give boards the tools to do so through changes to the legislation.”
Informed of the comments made to SLLP, McLennan vowed to “keep the pressure on” the Moray board.
“We’ve just had a new licensing board set up and so far we’ve not had much to do with them, but we are keeping the pressure on,” she said.
“The local SLTA had a meeting the other week and the consensus was that we are only hearing about things after they have been held in the clubs.
“Really, we need to get some more information [about events] before they are held, so we can put more information to the local licensing board.
“A lot of clubs are not asking for occasional licences – they’re just going ahead and doing it on the licence that they’ve got, but it is affecting us a lot. They’re only allowed so many a year.
“I don’t think it’s a fair field. We’re paying so much more for our licences; we pay full whack for our rates while they get concessions.
“So we are keeping the pressure on – we’re not happy about it.”