The Licensing Act contains a ticking time bomb that is about to detonate with serious consequences for retailers and the wider licensed trade across Scotland – everyone who was granted a personal licence in 2009 must take refresher training by 31st August 2014.
By John Drummond
The Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 introduced a statutory requirement that staff who had responsibility for supervising the sale of alcohol in-store had to have a Personal Licence. While the Personal Licence would last for ten years, the Act also stipulated that, to maintain the licence, Personal Licence Holders would have to successfully complete a course of refresher training within five years of the original licence being awarded. Last year it was decided that licences awarded in the ‘transition phase’ to the new regime would be reckoned to be effective from 1st September 2009.
As a consequence thousands of PLHs will now have to successfully complete refresher training by 31st August 2014. The consequences for non-compliance are severe: by law Licensing Boards have to revoke the Personal Licence and, once this is done, the former licence holder will be unable to apply for a new licence for a period of five years. This could have a potentially devastating knock-on effect on business. Worse still, if a Designated Premises Manager has their licence revoked, the store will be unable to sell any alcohol until a new DPM with a Personal Licence is put in place. The punishment does not fit the crime.
For almost 12 months now SGF has been getting information out to its members about the seriousness and urgency of getting refresher training and warning of the consequences. However statistics from the Scottish Government show that, as of March 2014, only 1,238 people had completed the refresher course. We don’t know exactly how many people are affected but it could be as high as 40,000 – this means that only about 3% of those who need to have completed the training with only about 4 months to go! It is becoming absolutely clear that we need consistent, coherent and joined up action on this from all sectors of the industry. This is an issue which affects manufacturers and wholesalers as well as it affects retailers – everybody has to wake up to this now.
Through our work with the Scottish Government Alcohol Industry Partnership SGF is trying raise awareness of the issue with key industry personnel and with the Government. Recently SGF has helped to establish a group of key stakeholders including People 1st, the Sector Skills Council, to urgently develop guidance and information material and a communications strategy to help get a consistent and coherent message out as soon as possible. For anyone who has changed their address, it is vital to understand that you have to refresh your licence with the Board who awarded you the original licence. For that and other reasons its clear that key players in all of this are the local Licensing Boards. Shockingly we have information that suggests Boards are taking a very inconsistent approach in terms of what they are asking people to do. Some Boards have a specific form which has to be completed, some don’t.
Some Boards want photographs sent in, some don’t, Some Boards will only accept original documents while some will be happy with copies. Surely Boards could have communicated with each other and realised that a consistent approach to processing refreshed applications would be invaluable and one of the most effective ways to ensure compliance. We are also strongly urging Boards not to charge a fee for processing.
This seems to be one of the many grey areas in the legislation: it doesn’t say Boards can charge but it doesn’t say they can’t. Retailers are already paying more than enough money to fund the licensing regime and charging for this simply smacks of opportunism. We have a significant concern that Boards could be overwhelmed by a sudden spike in applications, with a potentially disastrous impact on retailers.
There are a plethora of training providers across Scotland. The key thing to look out for is that the course is accredited by one of the four awarding bodies in Scotland: SQA, BIIAB, Highfield Awarding Body and City & Guilds. Protect your business, refresh yourself now and don’t lose your licence.