Fresh calls for the Scottish Government to issue updated guidance for licensing boards have been issued as new boards are elected following last week’s council elections.
The National Licensed Trade Partnership, whose membership includes operators, licensing lawyers, licensing standards officers and representatives from trade groups and Police Scotland, said it is “particularly concerned” that newly-appointed licensing boards, which are required to draft new licensing policy statements in the coming months, will be using guidance on the 2005 Licensing Act which dates from March 2007 – two years before the Act came into force.
In a letter to be sent to justice secretary Michael Matheson, the group, which was set up by nightclub owner Donald MacLeod to promote best practice between Police Scotland and the trade, has called for “properly updated guidance” to be issued to new licensing boards, saying it would be “welcomed by all stakeholders…and bring positive benefits to the trade”.
Donald MacLeod, chair of the National Licensed Trade Partnership, said updated guidance could help bring greater consistency between boards.
“We will again have a policy statement from each board and there will again be huge differences there,” he said.
“There are huge discrepancies at the moment, particularly on hours. Of course somewhere like Argyll & Bute’s policy will be different to a city centre but there are huge differences between the cities; there needs to be a more level playing field and that comes back to guidance for the boards.”
Licensing lawyer Jack Cummins of Hill Brown Licensing said it is “unacceptable that licensing boards are expected to work with guidance devised ten years ago”.
“In fact, we have a bizarre situation,” he said. “The Act says that boards must have regard to the guidance.
“But it’s not only moth-eaten – in parts it’s just plain wrong. For example, the guidance on overprovision doesn’t take account of the major changes that were introduced last September. ”
A spokesman for the Scottish Government said: “The Scottish Government is bringing into effect the provisions in the 2015 Act and will update the guidance for new licensing boards as soon as is practicable.
“It is likely that rather than updating the guidance as a single task, it could be split into individual components.”