Supporting your ‘local’ – making licensing policy local

We want off-licences and pubs to be part of their local communities, and the responsibilities that that entails. But town centres in Streatham, Norwood, Brixton, Vauxhall and Clapham are all different and need different approaches

We are currently consulting on a new alcohol and public entertainment licensing policy here in Lambeth (pubs, clubs, late night take-aways, off licences, etc…) looking to address the problems associated with alcohol and the night time economy, without taking away Lambeth’s position as a top place to go out or stifle business who employ significantly and bring growth to the borough.

National legislation constrains us, but we are determined to make it as specific as possible to Lambeth, the neighbourhood and the area in which they are operating because they have an impact on their surroundings, they are part of a neighbourhood. No pub is an island.

At the moment there is little differentiation between an off licence, a pub or a night club in licensing terms. In Lambeth, we want to do this differently. We know that these premises serve and attract different clientele, have different impacts and ultimately create different atmospheres in the back streets or town centres they serve. Asking licensees to be clear about what they will be operating is a key change we want to make.

The Police, the local council and of course local communities see the impacts in different neighbourhoods. We have less problems with street drinking in areas with fewer off licences. We deal with higher levels of alcohol related violence where there are concentrations of late night pubs and clubs. Street based drug dealing is generally an issue where there are night clubs and a busy night time economy. That’s why we want to look at a whole neighbourhood and concentrations of types of venues, not just individual licences.

We recognise that times are tough for businesses and that the alcohol economy plays a major part in the economic life of Lambeth, employing people, providing places for social interaction and foot fall which allows other shops and venues to thrive. But some types of venue are simply in the wrong place. A night club catering for late night revellers may do its best to disperse a crowd, but if the surrounding area is residential the business model may well need to change or relocate.

How a business is run also makes a difference. A well run pub catering for 100 people but done responsibly can have less adverse impact than a no-holds-barred venue for 50. That’s why we are implementing tougher expectations about those who will be running the venue.

At the moment we licence the venue, not the individual who will be running it. Part time management concerned with profits over punters does nothing to create a harmonious community. Confidence in trained staff with a commitment and knowledge of the area, as well as proactive engagement and relations with local residents is a must in our new proposal.

Early feedback and some of the initial research leading into the proposed timings for town centres and high streets reveal different desires. In Streatham and Norwood local businesses and communities want the growth of the evening time economy, not necessarily the late night / early morning. In Clapham there is a strong resident feel to reduce the overall size and the hours of night clubs and vertical drinking establishments because of the problems they are currently suffering. In most areas the proliferation of late night off- licences is seen to be encouraging street drinking and aggressive begging, something which cafes and bars say is a problem as much if not more than local residents.

If you live, work or socialise in Lambeth please have a look at our draft proposals and take 5 minutes to respond to the consultation.

The local night time economy can only stand to benefit when all its patrons are safe. So please respond to our licensing consultation by clicking here and if you want to read some of the supporting materials click here

The legal challenge of gambling policy – how to regulate for social outcomes against the overwhelming profit motive

At the moment we are renewing our Gambling Policy, and our discussions have again focused on how far Local Government should or can regulate businesses to play a productive and socially responsible part in the life of Lambeth. However there are two areas where weak guidance and a timid approach can lead to poorly run venues being out of our enforcement reach when problems arise.

Firstly is how to make premises responsible for the impact on their immediate locality, in particular that venues should have to bear responsibility for the bad behaviour of their customers. The contention is that punters who hang out at a bookies and abuse, harass or otherwise cause nuisance outside the venue whilst smoking or simply loitering in between bets, are the responsibility of the management. If the venue wasn’t there, neither would the nuisance.

But how far do we take this and how do we protect businesses that are well run that cannot cope with being in a bad neighbourhood?

The second, and more controversial issue, relates to a specific aim: “protecting children and other vulnerable persons from being harmed or exploited by gambling.” The guidance states “it will for regulatory purposes assume that this group includes people who gamble more than they want to; people who gamble beyond their means; and people who may not be able to make informed or balanced decisions about gambling due to a mental impairment, alcohol or drugs.”

How can we evidence or prove that shops are being mindful of these issues, especially when lots of mental illnesses are not physically obvious, when people who are less able to manage their money do not usually wear a T-shirt saying so, and whether it is their right to spend what little money they have betting on the GeeGee’s?

There is obviously a civil liberties / nanny state issue here but I’m putting that to one side because it would be unimaginable to enforce against a premises without evidence of an individual being exploited or harmed in this way.

The issue for me now, is to what extent the bookie is responsible for its customers, whether for their wellbeing or their behaviour, and how can we ensure that they do take it seriously. Especially when businesses are primarily focused on profit. How is this written into policy so that it is enforceable and reasonable?

Our big problem is that the legal playing field is uneven. Whilst individual bookies are usually a franchise, their legal backing is mighty, and the industry will fight any extension of regulation which requires shops to have a regard for their customers wellbeing or their customers behaviour. Our legal advice is understandably cautious when the public purse is at stake.

We have seen in very recent history the disastrous consequences of weak regulation whether through wilful deceit lax enforcement. Gambling, and of course the sale of alcohol, has a huge impact on individuals and communities. To not regulate locally is to ignore our responsibilities, for the welfare of our citizens and the safety of our streets. Also because we pick up the pieces when it all goes wrong.

How do we regulate industries at a local level without having to constantly look over their shoulder, or engage in costly enforcement. How can we ‘make’ them consider their social responsibilities over and above their profit targets. I imagine it’ll be one for the lawyers eventually but until then we can but regulate…