PLH mess didn’t have to happen

The current renewals uncertainty could easily have been avoided

The current difficulties could have been avoided by earlier action

ON Twitter the number of personal licence holders affected by the major ten-year renewal exercise now reaching the starting block drew me into a lively, amicable debate with the head of a highly-respected training organisation.

He thought some estimates of the tally were exaggerated and doubted that the trade faced an “Armageddon”.

The Scottish Government appears to reckon that boards can expect around 24,000 applications.

The calculation methodology used by the training boss has crunched the number down to around 15,000.

He arrived at that figure by applying a drop-out rate based on the percentage of licence holders likely to have left the trade since 2009.

For all I know, his estimate may be broadly accurate.

But reducing the debacle to a numbers game entirely misses the point.

Firstly, let’s consider where we are now. Although the need to set a fee for renewal applications was flagged ages ago, when the renewal process kicks off licensing boards will be obliged to accept and process applications without any payment.

Board clerks I’ve spoken to point out that they probably can’t levy a fee retrospectively; and even if that was allowed by the amended legislation – not expected until October – the costs associated with the exercise would render it uneconomic.

Secondly, there’s the procedure.

The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, as it stands, requires a renewal application to be submitted with the Scottish Certificate for Personal Licence Holders (SCPLH) while evidence of refresher training is to be in the form of the Scottish Certificate for Personal Licence Holders (Refresher) (SCPLH(R)).

For those affected by the first renewals, this means taking the SCPLH; lodging the certificate with the application by May 31, 2019; then completing the SCPLH(R) no later than August 31, 2019; and providing evidence of the updated training to the board by November 30, 2019.

Reducing the debacle to a numbers game entirely misses the point

On any view, that’s pointless duplication that wastes time and money.

In a ‘communications document’ issued at the start of this month, the Scottish Government “recommended” that applicants should simply support the renewal application with the SCPLH(R).

It’s an astonishing approach which relies on boards setting the law aside and taking a pragmatic approach.

Over my many years in legal practice, this is the first time I’ve seen it suggested that a problem with legislation can simply be overcome by a ball of string and sticky tape.

Somehow, the Scottish Government hasn’t found the time, energy or inclination to fix this properly. That apathy sits in marked contrast to its efforts in other areas.

Consider a problem with minimum pricing. As soon as guidance was produced for wholesalers, a problem became apparent. I’ll be returning to this subject in a future column.

But for present purposes suffice it to say that, according to a substantial body of legal opinion, all alcohol sales made from licensed wholesale premises are subject to minimum pricing, even where the purchaser is an alcohol retailer.

The government didn’t hang about. Instead, a month ago it started a consultation which will result in an early fix. No problem here with time, energy or inclination.

Consider too the way in which the 2005 Act has, over time, been adjusted to accommodate the wish lists of anti-alcohol groups: for example, the tightening of the law relating to overprovision.

So, while the personal licence renewals farrago may not result in “Armageddon” and on a benign estimate there may “only” be 15,000 individuals affected, we’re witnessing an unnecessary mess that will almost certainly cause disruption to perhaps “only” hundreds of businesses.

It’s a disgrace that could easily have been avoided –and it raises a fundamental question about the value the Scottish Government places on the livelihoods of those working in an industry that plays such an important part in the wellbeing of the country’s economy.

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Jack Cummins is one of Scotland’s leading licensing lawyers. Every month he writes on licensing law and answers readers’ questions in SLTN.

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Jack Cummins is unable to enter into personal correspondence on readers’ questions. The advice offered in SLTN is published for information only. No responsibility for loss occasioned by persons acting or refraining from action as a result of material contained in SLTN can be accepted by the author or publisher.