I tried to contact the Entertainment Licensing Section on 16 August 2002. They were all out. I was informed by another section that they were all at a meeting. The following letter from Hamish Birchall will explain.
I have learned that the day-long outing at the DCMS last Friday involved 8 civil servants working for the Alcohol & Entertainment Licensing branch: 4 from the Bill Team and 4 from the Policy Team. Andrew Cunningham did not attend; nor did any MPs. The event was organised by Six Continents (a multinational hotel and pub chain company) and the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA). The civil servants were taken to a cinema complex, a hotel, a restaurant and 2 or 3 pubs, including an 'All Bar One'. Issues discussed included children's certificates, PELs, and live TV.
I think the DCMS would simply argue that it was an important fact-finding exercise. For the licensed trade it represents a lobbying coup. The event seems to have been planned some time ago, at least before July 17. I think it was partly a reaction to the highly successful campaign by Stuart Neame, boss of Shepherd Neame brewery, to 'Kill the Bill'. He and Tim Martin, boss of Wetherspoons, are fiercely opposed to the Government's licensing reform proposals. They fear increased local authority control, and the possible loss of rural trade if more city-centre pubs can open late (country pubs may not be able to exploit the potential for later opening because the staffing costs would outweigh the potential profits).
But the big brewers are desperate for reform and are now very worried by the success of Shepherd Neame/Wetherspoons very public opposition to the new licensing Bill. I think that this week's Publican magazine (one of two licensed trade papers, the other being the Morning Advertiser), will publish a poll showing that landlords are now 2:1 against the transfer of liquor licensing to local authorities, whereas in previous years they had been more or less in favour.
The Government is anxious to keep the licensed trade on side: remember the annual £12 billion of VAT and duty derived from £30 billion a year of alcohol sales. It is clear that the cultural implications of PEL reform are still considered of secondary importance, in spite of the transfer of licensing from the Home Office to the DCMS last year. I have written an email letter to Baroness Blackstone, the Government's arts minister in the Lords drawing this to her attention. She is keen on access to and participation in the arts.
Earlier this week I also learned that the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health has just been invited by the DCMS to participate in the A&E Bill consultations. It was not part of the original group. I therefore asked Andrew Cunningham whether he would consider admitting another latecomer: EFDSS. He said no. I have copied his email to Phil Wilson and Brenda Godrich of EFDSS. It is still possible, however, that EFDSS may be able to participate via the Arts Council and I will be discussing this with the ACE licensing working party today.
I hope this information is useful.