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The Caterer

Now get your voice heard on licensing

19 July 2004
Now get your voice heard on licensing

Now that the Cateys hangovers have faded, and the DJs and ballgowns are back at the hire shop, it's time to knuckle down to business again. And business, this week, means addressing the implications to your operation of next year's new Licensing Act.

It has been 40 years since the introduction of the licensing legislation that currently applies in England and Wales - 40 years in which our disposable incomes, working patterns and recreational tastes have changed wildly. Clearly, a revamp is long overdue.

But if you think the incoming legislation is sure to give you free rein to open when you like and where you like, think again. The UK's binge-drinking epidemic has a stranglehold on the nation's media. Barely a news bulletin transmits without CCTV images of Burberry-clad youths kicking seven bells out of each other in urban high streets - and you can bet there'll be strong opposition to any legislation that enables licence holders to extend their opening hours, or even open throughout the night.

The incoming act will transfer the control of licensing from magistrates to our local authorities, and the authorities are this month entering into a six-month consultation period to determine the ground rules on their patch.

Where does all of this leave the operators? Of course, you'll need to apply for a new licence before the act becomes law in November 2005. Before then, and far more importantly, you'll need to make damned sure your voice is heard during the consultation process.

With law and order such an emotive and politically charged issue, you can be certain that residents' associations and other interested parties with an axe to grind will be aggressively lobbying their local authorities with a view to derailing any potential liberalisation of the law. You need to make sure the other side of the argument is aired.

Do you want to be able to serve your local market by offering the opening hours they demand? Do you want to be able to maintain a beer garden that needn't comply with a 7pm curfew? And do you want to be able to hold late-night functions in your restaurant, free from the fear of having your licence revoked?

If the answers to these questions are yes, yes and yes, you need to enter the consultation process, and quickly: the countdown is on.

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