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Government scraps relaxed licensing rules for hospitality businesses

The UK Government’s decision to reinstate tighter licensing rules for on-trade venues which were relaxed during the Covid-19 pandemic could be damaging for hospitality businesses and “hold them back”, trade bodies warn.

Government scraps relaxed licensing rules

The decision reverses the temporary easement of licensing rules introduced during the pandemic to make it easier for hospitality venues to sell alcohol for off-site consumption.

A consultation was held between 6 March and 1 May 2023 on whether to make permanent the alcohol licensing provisions in the Business and Planning Act 2020 (BPA) or whether to return to the pre-Covid provisions in the Licensing Act 2003.

Following the consultation, which received 174 responses from licensing authorities, trade organisations and residents’ organisations, as well as members of the public, the Government made the decision not to go ahead with making on-sale alcohol licences automatically cover off-sales as well as increasing the number of Temporary Event Notices permitted.

The overturning of these relaxed licensing rules comes much to the dismay of hospitality trade bodies. UKHospitality has been a strong proponent of both measures being made permanent, and chief executive Kate Nicholls voiced her concern over the change in policy.

“There’s no doubt that this is disappointing news for hospitality businesses. The temporary measures introduced during the pandemic were practical and enabled businesses to generate additional sales,” she said.

“This decision will raise questions among hospitality businesses about how serious the Government is about reducing red-tape for businesses, particularly when this would have been a low-cost, high-reward change.

“I would continue to urge the Government to consider measures like these as prime targets for change, as part of its focus on deregulation. UKHospitality and its members are keen to work together with government departments to identify areas that can be improved or changed, to reduce the regulatory burden and boost the economy.”

The majority of responses to the Government consultation were in favour of returning to pre-Covid provisions, however. Two thirds (65%) of respondents said they wanted the automatic extension of on-sales premises licences to end on 30 September 2023, meaning hospitality businesses will have to apply to their licensing authority for a variation to their on-sales licence.

Concerning Temporary Event Notices, 63% of respondents opposed making the temporary increased allocations permanent.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, took to Twitter to voice her concern, calling the reversal “really disappointing”.

She said: “They allowed pubs to offer takeaway options & host a greater range of events for their communities. We need Government to support our pubs not hold them back.”

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