The Northern Ireland Assembly must address a series of legislative and policy issues if the 35,000 jobs and £1 billion pub industry in NI is to be sustained, according to a recently-published Manifesto from Pubs of Ulster, the professional body of the licensed trade in Northern Ireland which represents over 70 per cent of the industry.
Pubs of Ulster created its ‘Manifesto 2010-2012’ to communicate the full range of issues and challenges currently facing the industry and to clearly outline the priorities and actions required for the licensed trade to grow and develop.
The Chief Executive of Pubs of Ulster Colin Neill explained, “Our manifesto provides a comprehensive guide for not only our members on the current issues that affect their business but also for the range of stakeholders whose actions impact upon the licensed trade locally”.
Despite the significant contribution made by the pub trade, the industry has been under considerable pressure in recent years with the ongoing difficult economic climate coupled with new and proposed legislation making trading increasingly difficult. To address this, Pubs of Ulster has identified the priorities and actions required for the licensed trade to reach its full potential in four key areas: social responsibility; driving economic growth; business equality and sustainability.
For example, the Licensing and Registration of Clubs (Amendment) Bill was introduced to the NI Assembly during the Summer. This Bill is currently within the legislative process and includes:
Power of closure controls to allow enforced closure of licensed premises by a. the courts for actual or anticipated public disorder and b. the PSNI for actual instances of public disorder.
A penalty points system to allow the PSNI to issue fixed penalties to licensed premises
A statutory proof-of-age scheme to combat the purchase and consumption of alcohol by minors.
Pubs of Ulster supports the aims of this Bill provided it is implemented in a fair and effective manner. If so implemented, it will gain the continued support of the industry, it states.
It would also like to shy away from any dilution of the ‘surrender principle’ in licensing through a reclassification of the existing licences away from the courts. It does not wish this power to go to councils for a variety of reasons, nor does it wish to see an altering of the classification system under Phase Two of the Liquor Licensing Reform which would “create an unnecessarily complex system of control and enforcement”.
It would much prefer to see updates to the current legislation.
“Furthermore, the potential introduction of personal licences would add yet another additional cost to an industry that is already struggling for survival,” states the Manifesto.
While it would support any regulation to prevent the irresponsible sale of alcohol, if that regulation is limited to the on-trade alone it will have very little effect on the health issues arising out of alcohol misuse, it states.
It would also recommend that the Department of Finance and Personnel offer a one-year rates reduction for businesses that reduce their carbon consumption and that minimise their environmental impact through investment in more energy-efficient plant in order to offset such energy-efficient investments.
In driving economic growth it wants to see new legislation to support the growing desire for a cafe culture to allow businesses within the hospitality sector to place tables and chairs in designated areas of the public realm for the sale of food and drink.
It would like to discuss opening hours such as a possible extension to permitted hours over the Easter period and the provision of a nightclub licence category. It would also like to see an extension to the current 30-minute drinking-up time.
“This is a necessary adjustment to accommodate both the change in size of modern venues and the need to protect public safety and manage the impact on neighbourhoods at closing time, often referred to as the ‘terminal rush hour’ ”.
Basing pub property rates on turnover results in an average of 30 per cent higher rates compared to any other commercial property including other sections of the licensed trade. This means that pubs effectively pay a substantial social levy within the rates – a burden which is held by pubs alone despite being responsible for less than 30 per cent of alcohol sales in NI. So it’s looking for the Assembly to create equality and apply only the standard rating system to pubs.
“We would then endorse a separate social levy which could be applied across the entire alcohol retail industry,” it states.
In addition to outlining its stance on issues such as Liquor Licensing Reform, the environment and opening hours, the manifesto also addresses issues currently high on the political and media agenda.
From left: Chief Executive of Pubs of Ulster Colin Neill presents Social Development Minister Alex Attwood with the Pubs of Ulster Manifesto.
With the current focus on the responsible retailing and consumption of alcohol, Pubs of Ulster outlines its position on two of its key objectives: the need to ban the below-cost selling of alcohol by the major supermarkets and the ban on the advertising of alcohol promotions.
Colin Neill concluded, “While many people will be aware of some of the issues affecting the industry such as minimum pricing and alcohol promotions, there are a range of factors that do not receive the same much-needed attention. The pub trade faces an uncertain future and raising awareness of and taking action on the issues affecting the sector is vital. Our manifesto clearly outlines the current issues and actions needed to help the pub sector to grow and develop and to ensure the future sustainability of the licensed trade in Northern Ireland.”
The Pubs of Ulster manifesto can be found on www.pubsofulster.com.