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The new Pub rules scapegoat the Licensed Trade in an abuse of existing powers resembling the actions of a police state

April 8, 2021 2 comments

As we begin to stare Monday and the reopening of pubs and licensed premises in the face, the imbalance and general lack of fairness that the Government has applied to managing the Lockdowns is beginning to look even more sinister than it ever did before.

The way that pubs and the licensed trade have been singled out and placed right at the top of the scale of unfairness is quickly becoming a scandal. One that only fails to shock as it should because the whole Government narrative of control through fear is beginning to look completely perverse.

Not satisfied with the social distancing measures that accompanied the reopening of Pubs last summer that made many great locals feel sterile, uncomfortable and out-of-touch, the Government is now intent on ratcheting down the Pub rules even further.

They are piling on the risk of closure for countless pubs and community hubs that had already been at risk well before Covid arrived, due to the way that legislation had pushed hundreds and thousands of pub properties once owned by breweries into the hands of property speculators or ‘pubco’s’. ‘Money men’ obsessed with draining every penny of profit from bub businesses, causing countless bankruptcies and closures along the way.

However, what is about to be imposed in the coming days as part of these supposed Lockdown-loosening measures is enough to make anyone wonder if there is some kind of agenda at work, aimed at destroying what remains of the industry once and for all.

It began with the dubious requirement that has meant every pub business with outside space available and therefore able to open next week must hire marquees for what may become many months ahead. Yet there is no practical, real-world explanation telling anyone why the environment inside a temporary indoor space is safer than one that is in fact permanent.

Then it progressed to all payments having to be taken outside, when a substantial number of the pubs that can open next week don’t have payment systems that can be used or can actually function outside of the premises they are in. Let’s not forget that this news emerged yesterday, some 5 days before reopening, when there simply isn’t time to install new equipment – if it would be possible for it to work. And that’s before consideration is given to the additional cost.

Last there is what some will see as the final nail in the coffin. The requirement for customers to download and use the NHS Track & Trace app to log in at pubs at the time their visit began.

Of all the new measures, the requirement for customers to use the NHS App is the most questionable. Not least of all because the same requirement will not apply in many other settings such as supermarkets and DIY stores where anyone visiting in recent days will tell you that they have become far more crowded and create close-contact of a kind that you are unlikely to see even at 11pm at the local pub.

It is clear that pubs and licensed premises are being singled out. Pubs and restaurants are now being used in a blatant attempt to coerce everyone into signing up to and using an information gathering and monitoring system that in this basic form constitutes abuse. One that when accepted or imposed in other sectors and in other forms could easily become permanent and used for much worse.

So why is the licensed trade being hit so hard when other sectors selling direct to the public seem to be having it so much easier?

Each and every local authority that we pay our Council Tax to has a Licensing Department. District Level Authorities (Borough & Unitary too) double up as your Local Licensing Authority. They all have a team of Licensing Officers and Legal Advisors already providing a localised regulatory service that monitors and enforces Licensing Law not only for pubs and the licensed trade, but for taxis, gambling, sex shops and scrap metal dealers too.

So the apparatus and infrastructure already exists to police pubs and the licensed trade in a way that no other commercial, publicly facing business can be monitored and policed.

The Government knows this. It is deliberately abusing the power that it has available to control people wherever and however it can. We should be grateful that the Government doesn’t currently have access to the same functionality within the public sector to police other businesses and sectors – or on experience to date, you can be sure that it would be doing so.

Good leadership isn’t using the power available to you because you can. Good leadership is using restraint and doing the right thing for everyone when it appears to be the more challenging pathway to take – even when it appears there is a much easier way.

One of the greatest problems that this Country now faces is the diminishing levels of humanity and understanding that exist between people. Historically, we have learned and become adept at understanding others through the interactions that happen face-to-face within our communities.

Greed on the part of the few had already meant that many local pubs where locality and localism could reign were at risk. Now the Government wants to pursue policies that will finish them off so that it can bluff its way to the end of the Covid pandemic and to the next General Election, and somehow convince everyone else that this Conservative Government has been good for us and that it truly deserves to win.

Whilst many will refuse or will find themselves unable to believe it, we are in the position that we are today – 12 months on since the first Lockdown began, facing the things that we are, simply because stupidity in Government has been allowed to rule the day. It has been fuelled by the fear of those leading us and an obsession with saving their own necks – no matter the cost to everyone else.

The Government cannot see the damage that it is doing and how far reaching it will become. Yet we cannot get rid of them before the next general election.

By then, for pubs, the licensed trade and whatever follows next in their dangerous and disproportionate abuse of power – the damage will have already been done.

Yes – Taxi Driver Qualification could be tighter, but further centralisation of the rules will discriminate against good driver applicants as well as bad

February 12, 2019 Leave a comment

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One of the most tragic ways that MPs and Politicians fail the Electorate, is by giving excessive weight to the advice and input from membership organisations that sell and portray themselves as representative of entire demographics or communities. For they are susceptible to the very same biases, tunnel vision and levels of self interest on the part of their representatives and leaders that the MP would be expected to consider if they were just talking to any one person alone.

All too often, Ministers who have little or no real-world experience of their brief or the wherewithal to understand at an intrinsic level, what someone is telling them who has, respond in knee-jerk fashion to what these organisations tell them. They are under the misapprehension that the words of such representatives genuinely reflect the will and desires of whole swathes of the Electorate, when reality is that they seldom do any such thing.

With four years experience as a Licensing Chair which ended in 2015, I was intrigued to hear the news that the Government is now to Consult on changing the qualification rules for Taxi, Hackney and Private Hire Drivers. The direction of travel suggested being to emphasise that the rules governing their Regulation should become more uniform, and therefore centralised so that an applicant or driver dealing with one Licensing Authority would now be effectively dealing with them all as one.

In principle this sounds good. There is definitely a disconnect between the reality that Drivers are often only Registered or ‘Licensed’ by one Local Authority, but in almost every case other than a large Licensing Area such as London, they will cross into the jurisdiction of at least one and possible many others perhaps as often as every day.

This does indeed leave grey areas over infringements in the regulatory sense. But more importantly where existing Taxi Drivers and their Operating Companies are concerned, there is a big issue over outsiders treading on toes. Vehicles from other areas are perceived to be stealing business from ‘local firms’ with the subsequent suggestion that the Authority Licensing that ‘outsider driver’, employs a policy where anything goes.

Because Taxi Licensing Policy is open to localised tweaks, additions and therefore non-adoption of policies which might have been adopted elsewhere too, it is easy to give fictitious credence to the arguments that roll away from myth that every Authority is run differently.

The reality is that the rules governing all forms of Licensing are already heavily centralised, have been set in London and in the main part with basic issues like qualification, are pretty much consistent wherever you might go.

Unfortunately, the Taxi Lobby has form when it comes to influencing Politicians to change rules for their own ends.

A decade ago, changes to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 closed a loop-hole preventing private drivers from gaining a fee for transporting Special Educational Needs Students between their homes, schools and colleges. Sold as a way to raise safety standards, the outcome of this ring-fencing of local authority contracts to a the closed audience which lobbied for it landed Local Educational Authorities with an average additional annual bill of at least £1 Million, without any indication that the benefit to the end user at larger was in any way improved.

Yes, there is always a need to make sure that the rules are tight. But rules can also be twisted to benefit those with the most to gain whilst there is a significant cost to others.

We should all be very concerned about the potential for further regulation which is being sold as being in the best interests of the Public, that may actually only favour particular types of operators, has the potential to price others out of the marketplace and put up prices for all customers.

All this at a time when Taxis themselves are increasingly the only lifeline available for people disadvantaged by the remote nature of their communities, where commercialisation of public services has failed them more than perhaps most.

Like Planning Law, which is often perceived mistakenly as being set locally by District Level Authorities, Licensing is predominantly set centrally already. It is just interpreted in the main part by Local Licensing Authorities.

In what is a typically quasi-judicial setting that some would recognise as not being massively dissimilar to the Magistrates Court, applications and reviews that cannot be determined by Officers under delegated powers are heard by a panel or bench of three of the Council’s Licensing Committee Members.

Within such a setting, there is regrettably always a chance that because of the inconsistency in the quality, approach and motivation of local Politicians – as with Parliament – that you will get a different outcome from a hearing. It is very much dependent upon who is sitting, who is chairing and facilitating, how they interpret the evidence given, how they are advised by Licensing Officers and yes – just because it’s the way that it all went that day.

It is here that there is real inconsistency within the Licensing system.

But this inconsistency needs to be tackled with measures put in place to ensure that there is consistency in determinations, that impartiality is the guiding factor in all outcomes and that nobody sitting in ‘judgment’ is allowed to influence a decision because of personal bias, experience or because they are on a power trip and want to get their own way that day.

The risk in moving towards a national form of Licensing administration is that it will remove what little flexibility is left within the system. Flexibility that needs to be monitored and improved, but not overlooked, forgotten or ignored.

Not everyone wants to be a Taxi Driver. Many people take on the role as an in-between to keep themselves working whilst the move between other things. Some take on the work because they do not like being employed but do not want the responsibility of being self-employed in the generally accepted sense and are as such making the very best of things that they can.

Yes, there have been some very serious cases of Taxi Drivers abusing the responsibility and the trust that they have been given. But whilst what those individuals have done is wrong, the cases that are now being used as a reference point for changing the whole industry are statistically very few, and like in many areas where Government Policy is being used to pursue the passions of the few, there is an inherent danger to this of the tail being used to wag the whole dog.

The signifiant danger is that by appearing to tighten up rules which are already working well – when you consider that you will never create the perfect system, there are many would-be Taxi Drivers who could be assets to an industry which itself is facing challenging times, which will be denied entry to these roles at an incalculable cost.

People who could now, through the further synchronisation of rules be excluded because of the already overzealous nature of decision making in the public sphere, where risk of any kind – which includes giving people the benefit of the doubt when they are turning their lives around or are leaving mistakes made in their youth a long way behind – would be in much shorter supply.

Dehumanising the system might be reflective of the world at large, but the disadvantage and cost of such steps will be much more far-reaching than what will only ever be a perceived and tangible benefit to very few.

image thanks to unknown

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