The real truth about 24 – hour licensing

Posted on July 26, 2010 in Ronnie's News

The real truth about 24 – hour licensing 

My attention has been drawn to an article in the Mail Online, the online service of the Daily Mail. I presume it was also in the main paper as well, but I don’t buy the Daily Mail. But this is it:

At last! An end to 24-hour drinking: Victory for the Mail as ministers pledge to scrap Labour’s failed licensing laws

If you read the report it blames the ills of society on ’24 hour licensing’ turning our town and city centres into ‘the wild west’. Carry on reading the report and it also condemns the supermarkets for selling cheap booze to teenagers who ’preload’ on it before hitting the clubs and bars then having a mass brawl. So what is the issue? 

Is it a 24 hour drinking culture in bars and clubs or binge drinking cheap booze before going out? Well you will see that they answer that question in the article and that in fact the headline is very misleading, they really attach the problem to ‘preloading’ on cheap booze bought at supermarkets, not with bars, pubs and clubs staying open for 24 hours. And even without 24 hour licensing this could still be an issue as anybody over 18 could buy their supermarket booze in their lunch hour or straight after work to drink later before hitting the town. 

The real issue of course, as some of the well put comments below the article put it, lie with this nation’s attitude to drinking in general. Not with the operators of bars, pubs and clubs who work within one of the most highly regulated and taxed industries in this country. 

As you know Ronnie’s is a town centre bar. It has a late licence – until 2am Sunday to Wednesday and 3 am on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. But I don’t and won’t do cheap booze promotions. If I did my bar would be competing with the supermarkets and would simply lose and go out of business.  

What we do is try to give people a reason to come out. Top quality DJs, original live music, Open Mic Nights, excellent cocktails made by skilled mixologists using premium quality spirits and fresh ingredients are just some of the things we do. We are a social hub for decent people. We are in the entertainment business, not the booze business. We don’t sell cheap booze, we don’t sell alcopops, we don’t do the thing that the Mail implies every licensed premise does, i.e. get all of our customers so out of their minds to the point where they either fall over or start a mass brawl making it unsafe for families to venture into town at night. In my experience in this country, families don’t tend to be out at 2am anyway, but why let reality get in the way of sensationalism?  

I was until recently the Chairman of my local Pubwatch. And I know this is not unique to Macclesfield, but any drink related violence is caused by a tiny minority of people. It is the same offenders time and again and through Pubwatch (I am still a member) we ban them from entering all licensed premises in the town and work closely with the police to enforce the bans. And if appropriate we try and get the courts to enforce exclusion orders on the main perpetual trouble causers. In other words the vast majority of people who consume alcohol do not want to cause trouble. 

The rumour is that the new Government will press for premises to pay a levy for staying open late. I already do pay a levy though. It’s called town centre business rates, which are a lot higher than local out of town pub business rates. The same as every licensed premise I also pay large amounts of VAT, PAYE and massive excise duty into the government coffers as well. We work in one of the most regulated industries there is, so the Daily Mail are only stating what already exists when they claim that the new Government will charge a levy on premises that do stay open late. So what they’re calling for is a levy on top of the existing levies.  

As I said we are heavily regulated. There are stringent conditions on my licence which include the use of licensed security staff and CCTV. None of this is cheap. In fact it is yet another legally enforceable levy on my business. If I do not do it I would, first and foremost, be doing a disservice to my customers but I would also be closed down for none compliance to my licence. Fair enough, that’s some of the conditions on my licence so I work within those conditions with no gripes or arguments. As responsible operators we also work closely with the police to ensure that Ronnie’s is a safe and enjoyable place to come to. 

When the bar was just a twinkle in my eye I consulted with the Police Licensing Department. I was told from the outset that I would not get a license to sell alcohol beyond 3am as the police in the town were not equipped to cope with issues beyond that time. And I can completely understand that. So the myth that every town and city has 24 hour drinking in bars and clubs is extremely misleading to say the least. In fact the overwhelming majority of 24-hour licenses in this country are held by supermarkets and other off licenses, so make of that what you will. To criticise the lack of ‘continental café culture’ is down to who actually owns the licenses which is down to the local authorities and how they grant them based on how they can cope with them. 

And of course we do get incidents at Ronnie’s but they are isolated incidents. They are dealt with quickly and efficiently with minimal disruption to the majority. They are not the norm and most certainly not solely the result of drinking alcohol in regulated and controlled environments. Anyway violence in town and city centres or in parks or wherever has always gone on. Some of it fuelled by alcohol, some of it by drugs, some of it due to just pure evil. It is certainly not, as the Mail would have you believe, a symbol of Britain’s decline under New Labour, it’s been a blight of Britain for centuries. 

The Mail’s claim to be victorious in getting 24 hour drinking repealed is very premature as it is not certain that the whole of parliament is going to support the repeal of this law. Just because some politicians, who happen to get the approval of the Daily Mail simply because they are not Labour, are suggesting that they will try to hand ‘victory’ to the Mail’s ‘moral’ crusade doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole of parliament will agree to it as well. And with such a small majority Tory government it may prove more difficult than the Mail think. 

What needs to be done is a wholesale rethink from the on trade, from major multi site operators right through to the independent single site operators and put the emphasis firmly on entertainment and socialising and not boozing for the sake of boozing. Pub, club and bar operators, no matter how big they are cannot possibly win a price war against the supermarkets. Be proud of who and what you represent and do not run to low pricing for market share. It is unsustainable and what is the point if it’s cost you £100 for every £100 you take over the bar? Be proud of your pricing, emphasise what it represents and charge what’s necessary to give the customers a great time, wanting to come back again time after time. If the operators don’t make a profit they will close eventually. It doesn’t take a top accountant or an economics graduate to work that out.  

Its time to reclaim the initiative away from the supermarkets headline grabbing below cost sales pitches. They sell cheap booze as a headline to pull in customers then make big profits on other lines. This whole price check charade is utter nonsense. They pretend to show you how much they care about you. But the reality is that they then stack the profits into other items without you realising or more likely probably caring about it, because after all you’ve got 24 cans of Stella for a tenner, it’s a bargain.  

If there’s a problem with binge drinking it’s the supermarkets who need to be regulated more not the already massively regulated on trade operators. Turn your ire on your big supermarket advertisers if you dare Daily Mail. After all if booze is that much of a moral outrage then you wouldn’t accept the supermarket’s dirty advertising money stained with the blood and puke of preloaded drunken fighting hooligans. Now that would be a moral stance wouldn’t it?  

If you want to read the Mail article yourself then its here

If you want to know more about the entertainment on offer at Ronnie’s then go here

or here 

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