Government alcohol strategy – what does it mean for the hospitality industry?

At the present time much of the trade press in relation to the sale of alcohol has been dominated by discussions over which local authority is the latest to commence consultation on the introduction of a late night levy or who is going to be brave enough to consider the imposition of an early morning restriction order.

In the last week however the Government has issued its response to a consultation which was launched back in November 2012 in relation to their "Alcohol Strategy", and the discussion briefly took a different course.

Whilst the headlines were grabbed by the dropping In England and Wales by the Government of the introduction on "minimum unit pricing" ('MUP') (and any influence that Lynton Crosby, Conservative Party strategist might have had to do with this), at a time when the Scottish Executive appear committed to the introduction of MUP, there are a whole raft of proposals which did not attract the headlines

Those which have specific reference to the Hospitality and Leisure sector are set out below:

  • Ban on "below cost selling"

Whilst MUP may have been 'parked' for the time being, the on trade will no doubt particularly welcome a commitment by the Government to introduce a ban on below cost selling (being the level of duty plus VAT).

There will, however, be no ban on multi – buy promotions.

  • New Mandatory Conditions

The Government propose to introduce more effective mandatory conditions to attach all alcohol premises licences particularly in relation to:

  • Irresponsible sales and promotions
  • A requirement make customers explicitly aware of smaller measures of alcohol being available
  • Improving age verification requirements
  • Temporary Events Notices

The Government proposes to increase the annual limit for the numbers of TENs that can apply to a particular premise from 12 to 15.

The rule that TENs can only apply at a single premises up to a maximum of 21 days per year will remain.

  • Personal Licences

There are two proposals in relation to personal licences, one which is to be introduced as soon as possible, and the other on which the Government has indicated it proposes to consult further on:

  • The first batch of alcohol personal licences in England and Wales are due for renewal in 2015, and the Government has announced that it proposes to abolish the requirement to renew personal licences every ten years.
  • The Government has also indicated that it will consult, in due course, on the requirement to have personal licences at all.

The intention to abolish the requirement to renew personal licences in England and Wales again is in stark contrast to the system in Scotland where there remains a requirement for personal licence holders to carry out, and provide evidence of having completed, refresher training every 5 years.

Whilst there has been a mixed reaction on the failure to introduce "MUP", the changes in particular, to the administration of personal licences (removing a potentially troublesome and costly process) along with the small increase in the number of TENs a premise can provide in the course of a year are to be welcomed by the trade.

It is, nevertheless, perhaps unfortunate that the Government did not go one step further in their proposals to cut red tape for legitimate business and standardise the date for the payment of annual fees under the Licensing Act 2003 or remove the costly requirement for the advertising of applications under the Licensing Act 2003 in local newspapers.

The devil of the proposals outlined above will be, as ever, in the detail which has not yet been published. Whilst no definite timescales have been provided we will provide an update to members as and when any announcement is made.

Should you require further information on these changes please do not hesitate to contact Ewen Macgregor of Bond Dickinson on 0845 415 6647 or ewen.macgregor@bonddickinson.com

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