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The Alcohol Reform Bill, back from the select committee, will bring the most sweeping changes to hit the hospitality industry in 20 years.
Some pub owners say it goes too far and unfairly punishes responsible operators.
I disagree. The proposed changes will be good for the hospitality industry.
Currently it’s too easy to get a liquor licence. As long as you’re “of suitable character” you’re pretty much home and hosed. This has led to a disastrous proliferation of poorly run premises.
Under new laws, local authorities would have the power to refuse new licences – or not renew existing ones – on a number of new grounds. These will include whether there are already enough outlets in the area and whether the outlet contributes to the “amenity and good order” of its locality.
Those who own responsible establishments should not be worried by this. But it does mean they are less likely to have their businesses threatened by yet another shonky competitor.
Councils will also be able to charge higher licensing fees and impose greater conditions on high-risk premises. This should be welcome news for good operators, who won’t be punished along with the bad.
Local authorities know that well-run venues are in the commercial and social interests of any city, and their new powers give them the opportunity to weed out dodgy operators and encourage good ones.
More off-licence liquor outlets have made alcohol cheaper and more widely available, and it hasn’t been easy for responsible venues to compete with that. Customers are either tempted to stay and drink at home, or “pre-load”, arriving in town too drunk to be let in the bar.
Making it harder to get an off-licence, reducing their hours and increasing compliance costs for irresponsible sellers will help reduce the difference in prices between on-and off-licence liquor.
The industry will also benefit from a split purchase age. Inevitably, 18- and 19-year-olds will start to drink more regularly in licensed environments. An influx of young drinkers will mean ‘displaced’ more mature patrons with higher disposable incomes will be looking for establishments more suited to them.
This will enable greater diversification, more effective targeting and more sustainable niche markets. That has to be good for the industry.
Safer neighbourhoods and business districts will do much to boost the flagging credibility of the hospitality industry. All in all the Alcohol Reform Bill provides the industry a much needed public relations shot in the arm.
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