Published on January 29th, 2013 | by Dean Carr
Government propose scrapping newspaper notices
Tucked inside a ponderous home office consultation document, Delivering the government’s policies to cut alcohol fuelled crime and anti-social behaviour, is a proposal to remove the legal requirement to post premises licence notices in regional newspapers.
You can jump straight to it- section 9.21, on page 40. The government’s standpoint is that newspaper notices are just another layer of bureaucracy, an expensive burden on businesses. They also suggest that ‘local people have opportunities to learn about applications online or by notices on the premises themselves.’
At present, a premises licence application or variation must be advertised by the business in a regional newspaper or circular. This is to make local people aware of the plans and allow them to voice opposition within the standard timeframe. For the same reason, a premises must display prominently a blue notice advertising the plans.
Opposition from the press industry to the proposal has already been fierce, spearheaded by the Newspaper Society (NS), which has branded the proposal ‘a new and dangerous threat to the public right to know’. The Guardian, meanwhile, has picked a particularly juicy line from the NS, and republished it as the headline: ‘Alcohol licences may be granted in secret, warn regional publishers’. The NS has reacted furiously to the estimated annual cost to the regional press industry, between £6.2m and £7.9, published in the Home Office’s impact assessment.
The voice of newspaper opposition is likely to remain loud, but an equal noise should be made on behalf of the thousands of businesses, usually small businesses, who have to pay for the notices. In our experience, regional newspaper adverts for these mandatory notices range enormously in price. At the low end of the spectrum are adverts costing £110-£150. In cities such as Birmingham, London, Manchester and Leeds, the metropolitan centres of licensed retail, adverts are routinely billed at £650.
It would seem that the government have picked up on this. Using statistics from 2008-09 and 2009-10 (and remaining true to them) the impact assessment document estimates that 17,648 adverts for applications and variations are issued in a typical year. Their estimate of the annual cost to the regional press of removing the need for notices (£6.2m-£7.9m) suggests that the average advert costs between £351 and £448. Given that a variation, in particular, can be carried out relatively cheaply, this is a massive additional cost.
There is a fair case to be made that what began as a common sense requirement to advertise change has been derailed by the greed of major city newspapers. At the same time, regional newspapers will justifiably panic if new blow to their role in local society is delivered (the suggestion that local people might instead find out online must rub salt in the wound). It is unfortunate that the price range of a licence notice cannot realistically be fixed by law to a reasonable level, avoiding the need for more sweeping reform.
Nevertheless, it is a gross exaggeration to suggest that licensing will be carried out ‘in secret’. As the Home Office’s impact assessment points out, plans for premises licence applications or variations will be clearly visible to most local people via the blue notices on buildings. Will local people read about in online- who knows?