Alcohol Licensing News – New Government – New Regime?

The past fortnight has seen momentous change in our political system. For the first time in seventy years we have a peacetime coalition government. It may be that in years to come we will look back on the agreement Best Business In Tirupati between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and see this period as a pivotal moment in our political history and the birth date of the “new politics” the politicians have been speaking about.
What does this mean for the licensed trade? The industry seems to have given a cautious welcome to the new Government, as reported last week by the Morning Advertiser and The Publican.
The Conservatives have traditionally been ideologically wedded to the concept of an individual’s personal responsibility for their actions rather than to government attempting to control individual actions through reams of rules and regulations, and no doubt socially-liberal Liberal Democrats would also want to see a curb on the Nanny State. Whether such a change in emphasis will have the desired effect of reducing anti-social behavior in the long term, remains to be seen.
The effect of the coalition may mean consensus has to be reached more often than in single-party governments, which may also curb the tendency for governments Types Of Entrepreneurship With Examples react hastily to headlines in the tabloid newspapers. A more considered approach to licensing law and regulation would be most welcome.
The new Government’s economic policy is still in its infancy, but the trade seems most worried about a possible hike in VAT from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent. Most of the licensed trade seem to see the VAT rise as inevitable. We are not so sure. The new Chancellor, George Osborne, has hinted that currently agreed tax rises potentially raise more than he was aiming for in cutting the deficit. Raising VAT would be politically dangerous, allowing the Opposition to say “I told you so”.
The licensed trade seems more hopeful as far as alcohol duty is concerned. Tax on alcohol has risen exponentially in the past few years, and this has played its part in depressing sales volumes and therefore, ironically, the tax take for the Treasury. Certainly, the Conservatives pledged to ditch Labour’s 10 per cent above inflation hike in alcohol duty and the Liberal Democrats also promised to review the current alcohol tax regime, including the “beer duty escalator”, so some respite might be in order here.
Today, the Morning Advertiser reports rumours that responsibility for licensing will be returned from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) back to the Home Office. If the rumours are true, what does this signal to the licensed trade? Can we expect a tougher regime from the government department responsible for law and order? Both the Conservatives and Lib Dems talked tough during the election campaign. The Tories want tougher sanctions for both the police and local councils to remove licences, a huge increase in the fine for underage sales and an extra charge for late night premises. The Liberal Democrats want a Premises Licence reviewed every time an underage sale takes place there.
It seems clear which way the land lies. However, it is not clear what additional powers could be given to curb rogue licensed premises. It is hoped the new Government might instead choose to focus on getting enforcement authorities and local residents to use the many and various powers they already have more effectively. We live in interesting times. Let’s hope, for the sake of the licensed trade, that does not turn out to be a curse.

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