The Licensing Act is a robust piece of legislation, created to bring the licensing system into a clear, transparent integrated framework for decision making. However, problems can arise when it’s not applied consistently by local councils.
Different interpretations can create inefficiencies and costly delays that cause widespread uncertainty and financial hardship. Recently, I’ve worked with a shop that waited for months on end for its application to be granted – when you think of all the lost alcohol sales during this time, the financial loss can be crippling.
Many problems stem from local councils being under-resourced and understaffed, but most significantly lacking the knowledge of their role and how to maintain efficient, fair, and timely internal processes. Many council websites do not even have contact details listed, making it difficult for businesses to get in touch.
What’s more concerning is that when it comes to enforcing the licensing legislation, small businesses are more often the focus of authority attention than larger corporate retailers. Councils often offer little flexibility to the needs of the local business community, and fail to acknowledge that they do not have the same resources to deal with any problems that arise.
If we are to overcome these challenges, councils that have poor practices must address their disconnection to small businesses and meet in the middle to understand how serious unnecessary delays and checks can be. From here, local councils with poor practices can begin to foster an environment that supports businesses instead of creating barriers to trade.
The Licensing Act is not designed to prevent businesses from trading, and small business owners should be afforded support and help to correct failings. Councils need more funding to invest in modern technology, to make the process more straightforward, more staff to better communicate with applicants, and to learn from other local authorities that have more streamlined processes in place.
From here, councils will be better able to build trust and cultivate a business environment whereby people are supported and are encouraged to operate in a very challenging arena, with the backing of their local authority.
This article first appeared in in:brief October 2022 edition, click here to read more.