Boards: keep your neutrality

Newly-elected administrations implored to ignore party politics

By Dave Hunter

• Licensing boards are statutory bodies.

A VETERAN Scottish licensing lawyer has called on the country’s new licensing boards to maintain their political neutrality and continue the “cross-party” approach seen under previous local administrations.
Speaking at last week’s SLLP Big Licensing Conference, Archie Maciver of Brunton Miller said he hoped Scotland’s newly-elected licensing boards will “retain their independence, and that they continue to sit, as they have been doing for a number of years, on a non-political basis”.

“They (boards) happen to be made up of councillors, but they are not sitting there wearing party political hats,” he said.

“There’s a cross-party approach to life. We’re lucky in Scotland in that, at the moment, that seems to work well.
“I’ve seen plenty of decisions where there have been split votes; people of a party have voted one way and members of the same party have voted another, which underlines the fact that they’re not looking at it through party political eyes. My hope is that will continue.”

Maciver particularly appealed to newly-elected SNP councillors, who he said he hopes “are not used to implement, slavishly, the central government approach to licensing”.
“Some might say that the [Scottish Government] is open to listening more to the health lobby than they are to the voices of the trade,” said Maciver.

“There are problems that arise from the misuse of alcohol. Nobody can argue against that. But, equally, the leisure industry, the alcohol industry, call it what you will, is a huge contributor to our economy in many ways.
“It is a major driver of finance in this country, and we cannot let that industry die. In recent years we have lost countless pubs. There are pressures on the nightclub industry.

“Accepting, always, that there have to be controls in place, the licensed trade at the moment appears to be in somewhat of a declining spiral. And that’s not good, in my view, for anyone.”
Maciver also used his ‘Frontline Report’ presentation to address topics such as the recent reintroduction of the ‘fit and proper’ test and to repeat calls for a review and consolidation of licensing law.

Referring to a presentation from Glasgow licensing board clerk Mairi Millar at the last SLLP conference in December,  when Millar called for “a full review” of the current system, Maciver said the Scottish Government should “do what Mairi suggested and carry out a review to separate the good from the bad, and to focus efforts on resolving the current issues”.

“I repeat that plea that some sort of consolidation takes place,” he said.
“It’s something the trade, operators and practitioners are desperately needing. Ignorance of the law is no defence. We all know that. But to really make it work the law has to be accessible and, at the moment, it is not readily accessible.”

Other speakers at the event included Stuart McWilliams of Morton Fraser, Dr Niamh Fitzgerald of University of Stirling and Paul Smith of Castle Leisure Group.

• For more coverage of the conference see SLTN June 22.