Patrick Browne is chief executive of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, the country's bars and pubs industry body. He spoke to Kerstin Kühn about the 2005 Licensing Act which came into force on 1 September.
Caterer In a nutshell what does the new Licensing Act entail?
Patrick Browne The biggest change is that all premises now have to hold two licences: a premises licence and a personal licence holder nominated as a designated premises manager, who has to undergo mandatory training on serving alcohol. There is also a designation of irresponsible promotions, meaning that operators are banned from running special deals. However, out of the nine banned promotions only six apply to off trade, meaning retailers will be able to continue to offer deals such as two for the price of one. There are now also Licensing Standards Officers, the eyes and ears of the Licensing Board in Scotland, and if a licensee is reported a sanction will take immediate effect.
Caterer What are your main objections to it?
PB We are generally in support of the new legislation. The problem has been the implementation of the new act over the past four years. Very few people have actually been issued with a new licence and, according to our records, only 30% of applicants have received their new licence. The problem has been - and we warned about this a year ago - that the Licence Board has been processing premises licences but not personal licences, so there has been a backlog in the latter.
Caterer How many pubs do you estimate will shut and how many do you think will be negatively impacted by the new legislation?
PB It's difficult to estimate an exact figure but our statistics suggest that one in five operators who could have applied for a new licence hadn't done so by the 1 September deadline.
Caterer Has the extension of the deadline for licensees to obtain personal licences to November eased the situation?
PB It has helped but we are starting to get feedback that where licences were being processed quite quickly before, now that the deadline has been extended, the process has slowed down. So it's a kind of perverted justice.
Caterer What do you predict to be the short- and long-term consequences of the new act?
PB The short-term effects are that it will cost the industry an estimated £60m to keep the licences they already had and operators will have to run their businesses under worse trading terms. It will also impact profitability and trading, as pubs will struggle to compete against supermarkets able to continue to offer promotions pubs are now banned from running. However, the long-term effect will be that operators will be able to trade more flexibly, in a more profitable way and will be able to offer a wider range of services. However, it's really too early to predict anything definite just yet.