A leading licensing expert has branded the UK's new licensing laws impractical and poorly constructed.
Speaking at the Catering Forum last week, Chris Hepher, head of licensing at Kidd Rapinet, said that the new legislation, which has been ratified by Parliament, would put huge pressure on local authorities.
He predicted massive backlogs of paperwork at local authority offices as a flood of applications to convert to the new premises and personal licences arrives after the first appointed day, which Hepher said was likely to be 1 February 2005.
"Local authorities will be swamped, so there's bound to be mistakes," Hepher said. "There are a lot of current licensing regulations that need bringing up to date, and a one-stop shop dealing with all this is good for the industry. I am just not sure they have designed the shop right."
Hepher expected the barrage of further paperwork to mean that many variations on licensing hours will be thrown out by local authorities because they will fail to meet the two-month deadline to assess them.
He said that applications to vary a liquor license would be slowed down, because they would probably require public notification, such as an advert in a local paper. Any objections by the public or police could then be brought before a licensing committee.
"Time and time again, I expect that this won't be completed within the two months, so the application will be rejected," he said. However, a licensee could then appeal to the magistrate's courts, which Hepher believes will be swamped with cases as well.
He also dismissed the Government's claim that the industry would save £1.9b over the first 10 years under the new system. "This is clearly not the case," he said.
Licence fees were likely to be set between £50 and £150. This would mean that some multi-layered night clubs in London's West End could save as much as £12,000 a year, but small restaurants and bars would be paying up to five times more than normal.
Local authorities would also have to find replacement income, and Camden council in north London has already added £80,000 to council tax bills to cover the shortfall.
Source: Caterer & Hotelkeeper magazine, 24 June 2004