Jake Berry: new Pubs Minister

The Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen has been appointed to the role of Pubs Minister. He has previously held positions as Northern Powerhouse Minister and High Streets Minister and has a record of voting on issues relating to the licensing industry.

He takes over from Andrew Percy, who will take on the Northern Powerhouse minster role.

It is a blessing when the sun peeps through the clouds and evenings are bathed in sunshine. But for many bar operators, it also heralds the annual battle of ensuring local residents are kept on-side as customers enjoy one of the few days a year when they get to bask in the late evening sun with a pint after a long day's work. Here's a few tips that might help:

Know your neighbours

If you live cheek-by-jowl with your neighbours, ensuring that they know who you are and who to approach if they have issues is the key to preventing problems escalating. If they can turn to someone and have a quiet word about a cause for concern, you are more likely to be able to come to an agreement than if the matter has escalated and there is already a level of distrust.

Set your ground-rules and stick to them

If you have an issue with kids using your neighbour's fence for a football goal, or a neighbour complaining of smokers under their bedroom window, it's clear to see that these could amount to a nuisance. It's better not to find out whether a licensing committee agree that what you are doing is reasonable. Identify what can be done to assist and most importantly, ensure that staff and customers understand the ground-rules. Notices to that effect can save a lot of bother in the long-run.

Advanced notice is not only polite- it's good marketing

If you are having a charity beer festival and garden party over the August Bank Holiday, make sure you let all your neighbours know in advance. If possible, give them a full breakdown of what they can expect- including start and finish times and the nature of any entertainment. With any luck, they will invite their friends and come along. If they don't want to, it at least prepares them for what's coming and allows them to decide if they would rather be elsewhere. The same goes for notifying your local licensing officer. If they know, they can assist should complaints arise.

Don't think the Live Music Act permits you to cause a disturbance

One-off events, properly thought through and advertised in advance, are one thing. Having local bands playing in the garden every Sunday all summer is something very different. If you are doing this, make sure that you carry out checks to ensure that your neighbours will not be disturbed and if they are, seek to minimise this as much as you can. Environmental health officers are obliged to serve a noise abatement notice if they witness a statutory nuisance and so simply saying the Live Music Act allows me to do it is not enough.

Following the recent withdrawal of a Court of Appeal case, the old rule of thumb that fewer than 10 seats in a premises mainly selling hot food a drink for customers to take away would not require the premises to have a customer toilet may be gone for good.

In the case that was subject to the appeal, the High Court had determined that local authorities were within their rights to serve notices under S20 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, requiring provision of toilet facilities in outlets consumed food on the premises, regardless of the number of seats. The test will be whether the premises is normally used by the public for consumption, rather than a hard and fast rule of thumb, which unfortunately leaves room for interpretation for all businesses that whilst mainly sell food and drink to take away, also have a small provision for customers to eat in.

Gambling News

In January 2017, the Gambling Commission (GC) consulted all interested parties on its proposed changes to their enforcement strategy. Essentially, the key proposal was to do away with the notional bias toward settlement in favour of putting all regulatory tools at their disposal on an equal footing. Following the consultation, the GC has announced its findings.

The key points in terms of the GC enforcement strategy are:

  • Emphasis on putting the consumer first
  • Putting settlements and licence reviews on an equal footing
  • Credit will be given for timely disclosure on a case-by-case basis, based on factors such as nature of the disclosure and previous record
  • Financial penalties will be determined on the facts of each individual case- there will be no guidelines given for likely fine levels, although outcomes of cases will be published for guidance to other operators.

There will be no adoption of a CPS style model of potential fines or discounts, as this would affect the ability of the GC to be 'agile and flexible' in its decision making.

The FA and SFA spilt on gambling sponsorships for the beautiful game

The English Football Association have terminated their relationship with Ladbrokes and confirmed that they will not be replacing them with any other betting partner. The timing suggests that the move it is on the back of a number of reported breaches by players of the FA's betting rules. The sponsorship deal had three years still to run. The Scottish Football Association (SFA) appears set to continue their relationship with their betting partners who sponsor the SPFL, the Scottish Cup and the League Cup.

Gambling Commission regulatory returns and key event notifications soon to be done exclusively via their online system

As part of the Commission's commitment to "digital first" the following processes will move to be online only:

  • All regulatory returns must be submitted via eServices - Operator as of 1 October 2017; and
  • All key event notifications must be submitted via eServices – Operator as of 1 September 2017. The email address will no longer be available.

It is important that operators sign up for eServices access ahead of these dates. You can contact the Commission to register on 0121 230 6666.

Out and About

June was a very busy month for hearings as councils got back into the groove following the General Election. Hearings took us through many London boroughs, Birmingham, Bracknell, Reading, St Austell, York, Scarborough and Hertford, to name a few.

Whilst it may only be anecdotal, there appears to be growing engagement in the licensing process from local residents and resident associations- certainly from the number of cases we have seen recently involving residents voicing their concerns. Some areas, in particular metropolitan areas, largely through their resident associations have always been active in licensing. However, we have seen more individuals look to involve themselves in the process. Whilst this can be looked at as a negative, insofar as it may be the cause of more hearings, in general it is a good indicator that the Licensing Act is in good health and that communities feel engaged. In particular, where residents are actively coming out in support of their local premises operators.