Following recent efforts by Glasgow City Council’s to ameliorate the difficulties caused to the creative and artistic community by ill judged changes to the licensing framework Cllr Frank Docherty, Convener of the Licensing & Regulatory Committee, has written to Nicola Sturgeon MSP. A previous post here on Linn Labour attempted to give some background to the problem. Frank’s letter describes the issue more comprehensively and more eloquently:
I am writing to you in response to the criticism that has been directed towards Glasgow City Council following the increased public awareness of the changes to how public entertainment licences will be regulated from April 1, 2012.
As you will be well aware, the Council is a major backer of the arts in Glasgow and so it is extremely frustrating to see the way the Council has been characterised as a direct consequence of a change to the law that we advised against right from the outset.
As the Scottish Parliamentary record clearly shows, the Council was very clear in its submission to the Justice Committee that the then proposed amendment to Sec 41 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act would have a detrimental impact on a great many events which had previously not required a licence as no entry payment was required. Concerns and questions were also raised by many other local authorities, the Law Society of Scotland and the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland, who were even unclear what problem the amendment was trying to solve.
These views were all reflected in the recommendations of the Justice Committee who suggested that the Scottish Government should consider an alternative amendment within its Criminal Justice and Licensing Bill that would take account of the scale of the event/entertainment. Sadly these concerns, expressed by those with direct experience of the sharp end of licensing, were wholly ignored and the government ploughed ahead with what we knew to be an ill-informed amendment. Incredibly it still seems that Scottish Government does not understand the implications of the change to the law.
The removal of the Section 41 condition ‘payment of money or money’s worth’ can only be interpreted to mean that even free events listed in a council’s resolution now require a licence. Yet, in recent comments you suggested that free-to-enter events do not require a public entertainment licence and that there is ‘nothing whatsoever in the law to prevent Glasgow from exempting all or certain categories of free-to-enter events from the requirements to have a public entertainment licence’.
However, we cannot wait for the Scottish Government to provide much needed clarity on this pressing issue. We do not want to see any damage inflicted upon the arts scene in Glasgow or even the wider community. That is why we are seeking to exclude non commercial temporary events from the effects of the Scottish Government’s amendment for six months from April 1 this year. This would only be temporary measure while we take matters into our own hands to review and consult on how public entertainment is regulated in Glasgow. Every other local authority will soon have to grapple with these complex issues and it appears they will do so with no direction or guidance from the Scottish Government.
In the circumstances a confusing patchwork of regulation across the country is the best that can be hoped for and it is this point, along with the recent controversy, which underlines a fundamentally important issue. As someone who has served on a variety of licensing committees over many years, it is now clear that licensing legislation at a national level is in a complete shambles.
At our last count there are over 30 different pieces of primary licensing legislation and over 100 pieces of secondary licensing legislation, many of which are over 50 years old.
All of these individual pieces of legislation have different rules for applying for licences, objecting to applications and for considering applications. It is not surprising that members of the public, organisations, and businesses become frustrated or disillusioned with the licensing process. It can easily take a team of legal experts to work their way through this legislation, so how can we expect our local residents to get involved with and understand the licensing process?
For instance the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 is perhaps the single most important piece of licensing legislation, covering issues as diverse as taxi licensing, public entertainment, window cleaning and second hand dealers. But at nearly 30 years old, it is no-longer fit for purpose, not even allowing for objections to be lodged by email or for licences to be transferred.
In the last two years alone, there have been three Scottish Government Bills on licensing. But due to its single minded obsession with minimum pricing, the government has failed to take account of the bigger picture in licensing. There was a real opportunity to simplify licensing into one piece of legislation, with the same process for dealing with all applications, whether for the sale of alcohol or for burgers from a van.
Licensed activities can affect us all. It is important that individuals, businesses and other organisations can work to a clear regulatory framework that places a priority upon public safety. It is baffling that England and Wales have a moder , single piece of licensing legislation which is easily understood and applied by all, but we in Scotland do not.
I am therefore calling upon the Scottish Government to revisit not only this ridiculous and ill-judged amendment to public entertainment licensing, but to revisit the entire licensing regime and give us a single piece of legislation which is suitable for the 21st century.
Councillor Frank Docherty