This month I gave evidence to the House of Lords Committee looking at how the Licensing Act 2003 has worked.
It’s a big question they are addressing, and I tried to explain alcohol sales from the perspective of convenience stores and off-licences trading in communities up and down the country.
The debate on the Licensing Act often starts with some misconceptions which I had the chance to address. Contrary to received wisdom, there are no more off-licences per head than there were in 1991, and the “explosion” of off-licence premises has, in fact, been a change in the types of premises where people buy alcohol to take home now compared to 25 years ago.
Most convenience stores (84% according to our 2016 Local Shop Report) have alcohol licences, but there are fewer specialist off-licences.
In most stores, customers can buy food, soft drinks and many other products when they buy alcohol, and that’s clearly not a bad thing.
What’s happened over the past quarter of a century is a profound change in the way people eat and drink: it’s now far more common to eat out of the home, and drink in the home. The Licensing Act has allowed the market to roll with these changes, to adapt and to offer alcohol where and when customers want it.
That’s not to say the Licensing Act is perfect. Sadly, some licensing officers and members of licensing committees don’t fully understand the Act and how it’s designed to work.
In most stores, customers can now buy food, soft drinks and many other products when they buy alcohol, and that’s clearly not a bad thing
A fellow panellist in front of the Lords Committee said she knew of councillors sitting on licensing committees who had received only three hours of training before making decisions that impact retailers’ livelihoods. That can’t be right when so much is at stake.
There are also parts of the Act that are underused, most notably the provisions to remove alcohol licences from retailers engaged in duty fraud. It’s a constant frustration to me that local officers and the police neglect this way of tackling problem premises.
Let’s not forget the ongoing discrimination against forecourts that have to jump through more hoops to get an alcohol licence – the Act should be changed to keep up with the modern world.
I was pleased to be able to speak up for the sector, and give the facts to the Committee. And it made a nice change to talk positively about a piece of legislation.