News Newspaper notices

Published on January 29th, 2013 | by Dean Carr

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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?

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About the Author

Dean Carr

Dean has been involved in alcohol licensing for over 20 years and has helped many independent retailers and corporate clients obtain a licence to sell alcohol or offer late night refreshment, regulated entertainment from all sorts of premises. Dean writes articles for various trade related blogs and is currently Managing Director of the PLT group of companies who run APLH and SCPLH personal alcohol licence courses nationwide. You can contact Dean or a member of his expert licensing team on: 01242 222 188



Comments

  1. Dean Carr Dean Carr says:

    A very interesting post is this from alcohollicence.org I did have a discussion a couple of weeks ago after a licensing authority hearing for a new premises licence with a Council licensing officer about the rising cost of newspaper advertisements. Having been involved with securing new premises licence applications since the introduction of the licensing Act 2003, I have seen the cost of adverts in the public notices section rise dramatically. As this is a legal requirement under the Act newspapers can effectively charge whatever they want, with the independent retailer in many cases bearing the cost! However the general public should have the right to know what is happening in their council ward in regards to proposed licence changes or additional licence being grated in their neighbourhood. The main point I would like to raise here is the effectiveness of a newspaper advert placed in the public notices section. Like many busy people I do not have chance to read the local newspaper from cover to cover, week in week out. Many people who pick up a newspaper will only read articles that interest them. The last thing I would consider is turning the page straight to the public notices section. Surely people could be made more aware of proposed changes to licensing hours or licensable activities in their local area if they were informed directly by post from the local authority. Having attended many licence hearings throughout England and Wales where there have been representations from local residents, most local authorities are guided by geographical area maps. This means that people who live locally to a proposed licence change or new application are most affected. Normally objections to a licence from outside of the geographical area are not considered unless they are from a responsible authority such as the police.
    There is a cost implication of course and this would be the cost of sending out a standardised letter and the cost of postage. A letter would also be able to point out that local residents could only make a valid objection to a licence application or variation if the application would undermine any of the licensing objectives if granted. As for posting proposed licence changes online this may also be a consideration for each local council as local resident associations could sign up to online posting of proposed licence changes in their district or borough.
    It will be interesting to see what happens
    Dean Carr
    Senior Licensing Consultant
    Personal Licence Training Ltd

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