Thursday, 17 June 2010

Ludicrous licensing leglislation

An article in this morning's Herald highlights inconsistencies in the approach of local authorities to enforcing the new liquor licensing legislation. Stores licensed by one council have been given slapped wrists for selling alcohol to underagers, while in another licensing area a shop was slapped with a two-month ban. So no change there then.

But this helps underline the criticisms of the 2005 licensing Act in this week's report by the Regulatory Review Group, a body set up by the Scottish Government to help "maximise regulatory efficiency", according to a report in last weekend's Sunday Herald. It says that the RRG's report is "likely to enrage council leaders" due to the shortcomings outlined, which include the ludicrously slow processing of applications, inconsistency and unfairness in the charging of fees, and poor guidance from the Scottish Government.

Interestingly, the part of the report apparently most likely to annoy local authorities seems to be a call for a more standardised process throughout Scotland: "In national issues driven centrally by Scottish Government but implemented by councils there is a strong argument to move to a standardised corporate approach."

Which reflects what I said recently about a national regulator for taxi licensing, and which it should be recalled was ignored by the Office of Fair Trading in its 2003 report on the cab trade, despite the advent of such a 'tsar' in Ireland, and which was previously advocated by John Fingleton as chairperson of that country's Competition Authority, but who is now ironically chief executive of the OFT.

And while on the subject of taxis, another article in today's Herald perhaps underlines the poor quality of the legislation emanating from Holyrood. It says that Strathclyde Police are having trouble with the new laws regulating taxi and private hire car radio despatch offices, because its provisions do not require disclosure of the directors of companies running these operations. This seems a strange omission in view of the fact that the perceived problem was that these businesses were being used as fronts for organised crime. Police are to lobby the Scottish Government for changes to the legislation, and Strathclyde's chief constable also wants hearings on such licence applications to be heard in public, another facet of the process that varies between councils.

However, since civil servants in Edinburgh have been grappling with this issue for perhaps ten to twenty years, then it's maybe understandable that they haven't been able to get things right first time round.

But handing more powers to Holyrood might be a better option - the politicians would be so busy with these that the past cock-ups could be conveniently forgotten.

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