With vastly reducing budgets the Council cannot afford to play Policeman alone. By creating the rules in partnership with clubs, pubs AND local residents, the Council can focus on problem areas and premises much more effectively.
This week saw the first in a series of problem solving discussions between pubs and clubs, local residents and various officers from licensing, trading standards, community safety and the police. I was there in my capacity as a local Councillor and we also had Public Health London and Vauxhall One, the business association for Vauxhall, round the table.
Our aim is to jointly agree (or coproduce in today’s business speak) the ‘how should we implement and abide by our new licensing policy together’ so that no longer does it seem a cosy stitch up between the council and business to residents, or the Council and Councillors jumping to the tune of a few angry voters. As the Licensing authority the council needs to tread a fine line between regulation, responding to residents, and encouraging business growth and every instance is very different.
Of course bringing together the experiences, expectations, gripes and aspirations of all concerned is no mean feat in a policy area which is almost always adversarial and polarised with seemingly sleep-deprived residents on one side and self confessed responsible businesses on the other.
But that is what we started yesterday in Vauxhall at the Licensing Transformation Co-production workshop and will be doing in each of our major town centres over the next two months. Our guiding thought is that we must pave the way forward together and ensure that decision-making is transparent, with everyone having equal access to the rules, regulations and information.
We have a new licensing policy which is stricter across the board in terms of getting a new licence, requiring businesses to demonstrate from the outset how they will operate responsibly and safely, and needing a demonstrable commitment and understanding of the neighbourhood; all that remains for us is to put this into practice. That is why we are also seeking views from our residents, businesses and partners on the council’s Licensing service and access to Licensing information, including how the outcomes of Committee decisions are communicated.
The discussion yesterday was wide-ranging and challenging at times but most of those I spoke to who had spent three hours on a Monday afternoon airing their views, probing officers and sharing suggestions on all aspects of Licensing felt it was productive, open and “for the first time felt clear about what licensing was about.”
We discussed the importance of having a named council officer for an area to report to and clarity for residents about who to report things to – not being passed from pillar to post between noise, licensing, the police or community safety.
Residents wanted to be clear what constituted evidence and what support they could be given in getting it, not just from the council but within their local communities, to safeguard their area and prevent any potential problems.
There was a clear distinction between large and smaller venues, and an acceptance by all that early engagement and dialogue was to be welcomed: sharing information meant for better outcomes. The best platform for this will be explored further for each area.
The role of our business improvement district, Vauxhall One, was questioned in resolving issues potentially caused by their members. They clearly they have a difficult position to defend their fee payers as well as reform practices and resolve issues. Welcome to my world!
But most important was the conversation and the common understanding which was being developed and will continue to be developed. Policy is not made overnight, nor does it change things immediately it is agreed. Nor should it remain static when the world is anything but.
It is the implementation of this policy, and the consideration of seasons, trends, our responsibilities to our residents, the regeneration over time of a neighbourhood, the changing make up of an area and of course market forces which needs us to lead and facilitate a strong, flexible dialogue which is ongoing. It’s dynamism comes from having real partners at the table and is its strength.
I look forward to hearing the outcomes from the workshops about to happen in our other town centres and the follow up wider public discussion and input into how alcohol and our neighbourhoods work together. I suspect that areas in Lambeth with established and sometimes testing late night economies such as Clapham, Brixton, Vauxhall and the South Bank can look forward to discussions which are just as lively and productive as that which has taken place in Vauxhall, although the workshops in our town centres in Norwood and Streatham with their burgeoning nightlifes are likely to be just as vibrant and engaging.
However challenging and diverse the views expressed it is essential that all parties get involved: that’s the point of our commitment to cooperative values and involvement of communities, both business and residential. Our job is to create the situation where cooperation and collaboration can take place, and act as arbiter in a fair way if cohesion is threatened.
The most obvious way to get buy in is to let the players shape the rules. Then when they are broken no one can complain.