If you’d told me the authorities in Scotland had managed to get 18,000 alcohol licence holders to undergo statutory training in just six months, I’d have said it sounded like a job well done.
But that would hide a huge problem. In the middle of the busiest season of the year, 10,000 Scottish retailers and pub landlords will have their personal licences to sell alcohol revoked. Those who haven’t undertaken mandatory training, as required by legislation introduced in 2009, will be banned from selling alcohol for five years.
In April, it was reported that less than 2,000 of the estimated 30,000 licence holders north of the border had completed this training. We don’t yet know how many of the 10,000 that haven’t thus far complied are small stores – as opposed to pubs, restaurants or hotels, for example.
What we do know is that this is an unmitigated disaster. There will be small convenience shops north of the border, at a key time of the year, who will find themselves without a licence to sell booze.
Who is to blame? It depends on who you listen to. I’ve spoken to Scottish retailers that have fully complied, and did so in good time. They say retailers have only themselves to blame. They should have known the deadline for completion of these important requirements, as any good businessperson would have.
But whoever is to blame, an automatic five-year ban is wildly disproportionate. And the fact that about 10,000 people haven’t completed this mandatory training, when the penalty is so draconian, also suggests there has been a real lack of communication and awareness.
Quoted in The Herald last week, chairman of the British Institute of Innkeeping Stephen McGowan, a specialist in alcohol law, put it simply. “The licensing laws of Scotland are now so unfathomable, scattered as they are across various sources, that even the few true specialists struggle,” he said.
If the people paid to know about it professionally can so easily decry it, then something has gone wrong with the system. Designed to raise standards and professionalism, all it will now end up doing is putting retailers already under pressure out of business.