Whilst the popular press rings alarm bells about ‘binge drinking’ the UK leisure and entertainment industries have to face up to the practical ramifications of the Licensing Act

January 2006

Live concert industry

The UK’s new Licensing Act 2003 came into force on the 24th November 2005 sweeping away ninety years of drinking restrictions and setting up a new regulatory framework for the leisure and entertainment industries.Whilst the popular press have focused their attention on the possibilities of all night binge drinking and a serious breakdown in law and order in English and Welsh town centres, the leisure and entertainment industries are facing up to the rather more mundane ramifications of the Licensing Act – increased bureaucracy and increased licensing costs. Alongside the somewhat exaggerated stories of all night chaos were reports that Local Authorities, now charged with almost all licensing functions, are failing deal with the mountains of paperwork generated by the Act let alone being able to enforce licensing decisions, requirements and conditions. The London Evening Standard (22/11/05 on page 6) headlined with ‘Licensing law Chaos Looms’ reporting on a ‘free for all as councils are unable to monitor all premises’, noting that many clubs, restaurants and pubs will be unlicensed as of the changeover and that local authorities didn’t have the resources to monitor the situation (and neither did the police). One of the saddest results of the Act is the ill thought out policy of ‘one size fits all’ nature of the new licensing regime, with many small events, festivals and clubs facing closure. Coupling the requirements of the Licensing Act with the new security industry regulatory machine headed by the Security Industry Authority means that many volunteers, small promoters and grass roots organisations are fearful of putting on events for risk of falling foul of the law. By way of analogy to the way the drinks industry is being affected by the new licensing rules, one of the more bizarre stories of the week was that Christian bookshops were being forced to stop selling wine for Holy Communion as costs to obtain a licence for such minimal sales were prohibitive.

The Times, in a leader headed ‘Thinking before drinking, Government incompetence has complicated licensing liberalisation’ points to the ‘inept performance’ by the Department of Culture Media & Sport and a ‘hyperventilating media’ leaving a nation confused by a Government crusading against (often alcohol fuelled) antisocial behaviour but at the exact same time pushing through legislation to liberalise drinking laws. It has to be said that it is a bizarre sight but perhaps understandable from a Government so keen to regulate and legislate but not always listen. In fact only about a third of pubs, clubs and restaurants will open any later than at present and of those that do approximately 40% have asked for just a one hour extension to midnight and 25% can extend to 01.00. Fewer than 400 clubs and pubs nationwide have acquired the right to open 24 hours a day (less than 0.5% of the total). But perhaps more worrying from an industry point of view is the risk that not only will law abiding citizens stop participating in grass roots promotion of music and events but the over-regulation of the industry will drive away small promoters and owners of smaller venues which provide such an important platform for new music; the cost implications the new licensing regime may even risk the continued survival of bigger events such as medium sized festivals, one off shows in parks and stately homes alongside a downward spiral and decline of pub, club and village hall events. This current government’s incessant regulatory tinkering and lack of shame in avoiding responsibility for the damaging side effects for its muddled legislation leads to the suggestion that those passing the laws are both incompetent and deceptive. It is also somewhat insulting to those who work hard to make the UK’s music industry the envy of the world. The lack of consultation over new legislation and the failure to take responsibility for the end results of statutes such as the Licensing Act, the Security Industry Act 2001 and the much debated Conduct of Employment Agency and Employment Business Regulations 2003 (see Law Updates February 2004) shows a lack of joined up thinking, an irresponsible attitude to a flagship UK industry and indeed does little to instil confidence in this government, the Department of Trade and the DCMS. One might hope that the Government now ‘takes a breather’ and refrains from any new legislation for a few years so the music, leisure and entertainment industries and their regulators can come to terms with the muddle caused by the new Acts.

‘Thinking before drinking, Government incompetence has complicated licensing liberalisation’ The Times 24 November 2005

Licensing Law ChaosLooms London Evening Standard 22 November 2005

Regulated to death: safety regulation in the live event industry (Challis, B)see ARTICLES

New UK Regulations for Booking Agencies and Entertainment Agents – The Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 ( Challis B and FennP) see ARTICLES

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