Even small tweaks to a venue have to be in the operating plan
THEY don’t come along very often – but the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 provides that a “special event of national significance” is capable of justifying extra licensed hours which might not otherwise be permitted.
The Scottish national rugby team’s participation in the Rugby World Cup finals looked exactly the sort of event for which the provision was intended.
After all, any Scottish national team taking part in a world sporting final is both significant and very rare (allowing for the creditable participation of the Scottish women’s team in this year’s Fifa Women’s World Cup finals, of course).
With the competition being held in Japan, the time difference meant that matches kicked off much earlier than the normal opening time for the vast majority of pubs. For example, the Scottish matches against Ireland and Russia started at, respectively, 8.45am and 8.15am.
The semi-finals and finals are scheduled to begin at 9am.
The ability to open up earlier and provide breakfasts along with alcohol was an attractive proposition for a fair number of operators, particularly those running sports bars and outlets popular with students.
But for some businesses the application exercise proved to be a disappointment.
In one licensing board area, a decision was taken to reject all extended hours applications looking to cater for the games – on the basis of the board’s policy statement which is set against alcohol sales before 11am (without, it seems, any flexibility whatsoever).
Other licence holders found themselves falling into a very basic trap.
Operating plans set out exactly what activities are allowed to take place in the premises.
Licence operating plans set out exactly what sort of activities are allowed to take place in the premises.
There’s an extensive list of categories: for example, bar meals, live performances, recorded music… and, crucially in this context, televised sport.
If that box wasn’t ticked, early opening was a complete non-starter – even without alcohol sales.
Rectifying the position would have required a major variation of the licence, which just couldn’t be accomplished in the time available.
Where an operating plan did allow televised sport, showing the games and providing non-alcoholic refreshments was allowed – although some licensing boards expect arrangements for trading before the start of licensed hours to be set out in the plan.
There’s a salutary lesson here. It’s absolutely essential that you are totally familiar with what the premises licence permits.
I was recently consulted by a pub owner struggling to drive traffic into the premises in the middle of the week.
He’d landed on the idea of providing karaoke sessions; and, unexpectedly, these proved to be a major draw.
But the turnaround was short-lived.
A neighbour complained about noise levels resulting in a visit from a licensing standards officer who delivered bad news.
The licence didn’t allow live performances or recorded music.
In this sort of situation, I’m sometimes asked if the submission of a major variation application allows a period of grace during which ‘activities’ may continue until the application has been decided.
The answer to that question is an emphatic ‘No’.
Operating outwith the terms of a premises licence is a so-called Section 1 offence and a successful prosecution will inevitably lead to a review of the licence.
I also receive a regular stream of questions from readers asking about children’s access to their pub or club: the parts of the premises where they’re allowed and the times of entry.
Once again, the answer is to be found in the operating plan and any deviation from the proposed arrangements is likely to lead to trouble.
It’s always worth asking your licensing lawyer for a licence ‘health check’.
He or she will explore the way in which your business operates, review your operating plan and, in many cases, identify potential gaps that ought to be plugged before they come to light at the most inopportune time.
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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