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Camden Licensing Policy

On 01/08/16 by Jack Shepherd (Policy and Information Officer)

The Licensing Act 2003 has at its core the principle that local areas – through their local authorities and elected councillors – should have a say on alcohol licensing in their localities. The Localism Act 2011 expanded the remit of local authorities and enshrined in law the move towards a less centralised structure of power in areas other than licensing. There are, of course, many benefits to this. Local councils are able to adapt to local circumstances, innovate to provide services at lower costs and ensure that democracy remains close to the people.

However, with greater power comes greater responsibility. Camden’s consultation on a new Statement of Licensing Policy is concerning as it seemingly goes further than the law and attempts to introduce an initiative beyond the scope of national legislation. The policy in question effectively looks to promote public health as a new licensing condition in addition to the four objectives set out by Government in the Licensing Act 2003. Whilst the new Statement of Licensing Policy objectives closely follow the Home Office Guidance issued under Section 182 of the 2003 Act, almost mirroring them exactly in most instances, there is one seemingly small yet significant addition of three words. The objective in question is as follows:

‘To provide a regulatory framework for alcohol which reflects the needs of local people including their health’.

Camden’s draft Licensing Policy proceeds to build upon on public health considerations a number of times, including setting out some ‘best practice’ related to public health for licensees to consider when completing their operating schedules.

This should be of great concern. There is no reference to public health as a licensing objective in the national guidance to the Licensing Act as it explicitly states that ‘there are no other statutory licensing objectives, so that the promotion of the four objectives is a paramount consideration at all times’. Indeed, public health can only be considered when relating to a specific premises and in detriment to one of the licensing objectives. Importantly Government has rejected public health as a licensing objective, in relation to cumulative impact, in a previous consultation and going forward there is no indication of an intention from Government to include public health as a licensing objective in the main Act. This decision is predicated on some key limitations and drawbacks. Public health data is not collected in a form that allows a causal link between public health concerns and individual premises, and is therefore unlikely to be considered relevant . Further concerns relate to the inaccuracy of statistics on alcohol as the primary cause of harm and the harm that is caused through alcohol consumption before entering the responsible environment of a premises.

Critically then, Camden’s draft Licensing Policy is effectively looking to introduce an initiative on public health in contradiction with national policy and subsequent consultations that have been closely scrutinised and consulted upon before being defined in law. We must therefore consider the democratic process. Yes, there are many important benefits to localism - but where do we draw the line?

If we are to discuss localism and public health, we should perhaps acknowledge the significant contribution made by many licensed premises to the responsible, safe and vibrant local economies through a number of partnership schemes and responsibility initiatives such as PubWatch, Best Bar None and Challenge 21/25. Further, we should reflect upon the significant benefits to health and wellbeing that are provided by pubs through an environment that encourages positive social interaction and the opportunity to build and maintain friendships. These contributions may be difficult to quantify at times but are, nonetheless, invaluable. If we are to consider localism and public health, I know which initiatives I’m backing.


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