Linda Holland (Licensing Manager) will provide a verbal update to the Panel on behalf of the Licensing Team.
Linda Holland (Licensing Manager) gave a verbal update to the Committee on behalf of the Licensing team and highlighted the following:
· 2020 had posed significant challenges to the Licensing Team and businesses and this had continued into 2021. Workloads were unsustainably high during many months and this trend would continue on the re-opening of the economy;
· The stop start nature of last year and having to be directed by restrictions, numerous regulations and guidance documents had impacted all of the businesses that the Council licence;
· From July 2020 when the hospitality industry reopened, businesses had to adapt to the new ways of working and comply with restrictions that they did not understand and Officers had the task of understanding all of the changes to be able to relay the information to the trade on what they could and could not do. It had been very difficult with the constant changes to the guidance – It had been a challenge for all, and the industry did an amazing job to get back on their feet;
· Officers had also carried out visits to premises, particularly ones that had raised concerns with non-compliance of the regulations; these visits would continue when restrictions have lifted to ensure compliance for the safety of the all;
· There had been good partnership working with Public Protection managers attending meetings 3 times a week with Police colleagues to ensure that there was collaborative working to address Covid concerns and complaints relating to businesses in Wiltshire. The partnership working had been a learning curve but had proved to be a huge success with Officers being able to spread the workload so that not all were having to go out to the same premises – so that the licencees get good service from us to ensure that the public are safe;
· During the first 2 weekend re-openings in July 2020, the Licensing Team was supported by colleagues from Public Protection in conjunction with the Police to carry out visits to over 300 premises to engage with and address any issues. Only a handful were found to be struggling with compliance. This would be a challenge again in April this year as businesses re-opened as they desperately try to build up their businesses again. However, sometimes the public don’t always want to do what they should with their behaviour being challenging for the premises to manage;
· Once the reopening’s were confirmed, Officers would be able to plan their response working in conjunction with the Police. Initially venues were only able to open to patrons outside and noise disturbance to residents may be one of the issues to address;
· Wiltshire Police, and the local authorities had been operating the 4 E’s – Engage, Explain, Encourage, Enforce, but as the pandemic has continued, the Licensing Team had moved into the 4th E for serious breaches or where previous engagement has taken place. New tools then became available and Officers were able to issue Improvement Notices and Covid Restriction Notices. Following a Police visit; the first fixed penalty notice was issued for a private party taking place on New Year’s Eve contrary to the business restrictions regulations. The £1,000 FPN had been paid;
· To support local business, colleagues from the Food and Health and Safety Teams had sent out over 600 letters sent out to give more guidance on what they need to do to safely reopen and given them links to signage and posters to ensure that they have all the tools that they need;
· In relation to animal licensing, in 2020 over 300 premises received an extension to their licence. Virtual inspections were completed where possible. Officers were still able to carry out outdoor visits to commercial premises but were not entering private houses unless it was safe to do so. Inspections would pick up again when the lockdown was ended but obviously many premises were not currently trading. Officers were doing what they could to support this industry as it would be needed again when lockdown eased;
· Annual fees for premises licences were not collected during the first lockdown, but the collection recommenced in October 2020 and only a few payments were still being chased. The numbers of applications in 2020/the impact on the industry was not quite so marked but this may be seen in 6 to 9 months from now. In 2020 20 premises surrendered their licences compared to 7 in 2019 and 9 in 2018. In 2020 67 premises applications were received compared to 53 in 2019. A number of new applications have included those wishing to operate their businesses from their homes, e.g. takeaways and hampers selling alcohol for home delivery. 40 licences were suspended in 2020 compared to 19 in 2019. Two thirds of those in 2020 asked for their licences to be suspended so that they did not have to pay their annual fee which ranges from £70 to £250 depending on the rateable value of the property;
· The extension by the Council to animal licences was exceedingly well received by the licence holders with 212 replying and utilising the opportunity to extend their licence. During the lockdowns nationally there had been an increase in dog owning with puppies in high demand. There were currently 25 licenced breeders which was an increase of 6 on the previous year;
· As part of the regulations, all inspectors must be suitably qualified by October 2021 to carry out animal activity inspections. All Wiltshire’s licensing officers had now attended the course for the professional programme in inspecting licensable activities involving animals;
· The pandemic had had a significant impact on festivals and events taking place in Wiltshire. Since the Governments roadmap to ease back to “normal” had been announced Officers had been extremely busy with information requests about whether events could now go ahead. However, at the present time the announced dates were only proposed and there was a lack of detail provided as to what would be expected of event organisers going forward; and
· Officers were unable to give any clarity on what maximum numbers and restrictions may be required for large scale events and had to advise that events going ahead would be at the organisers own risk as the dates of the releasing of restrictions were not fixed and could be subject to change. This obviously brought uncertainty for many and there would be a reluctance to commit to spending money if it was not guaranteed that it could go ahead – it was all still unknown and it would be wrong for officers to give false hope as to the possibly of planned events being able to go ahead.
The Chair wished to pass on thanks to all Officers on behalf of the Licensing Committee for all of their work in these very challenging times. The Chair agreed that the challenge to Officers would be to assist businesses with reopening and managing larger scale events. He asked that there be clear communications published in line with current guidance to ensure that all were aware of their obligations and asked if information could be prepared for new Councillors following the elections in May to assist them with the queries that they were likely to receive.
Linda Holland confirmed that a Licensing overview would be provided for all Councillors with specific training for those who would be serving on the Licensing Committee.
A Committee member reported that he had been talking to licensees in his area and they had previously experienced difficulties with customers entering their premises without a mask and trying to get served from the bar. He noted that there was no information from the Government yet as to what the restrictions would included once pubs, etc were able to reopen and asked if it was expected that marquees would be used from April and would they have to have sides on them and how did this relate with smoking laws?
Linda Holland reported that all marquees had to comply with smoking regulations and be no more than 50% enclosed (so have at least 2 sides uncovered). A number of marquees were used before Christmas and Officers had had to give some advice about their use and some had had to be removed for safety concerns. They were aware of most premises that were using gazebos but also received information from communities if they were concerns around them, most of the sensible licence holders ask for guidance about what they can/cannot do and some premises had had to be advised.
The Chair commented that the Council have a strong and robust licensing policy and event organisers should be advised to contact their local communities before their planned events to reduce any problems and complaints. There should be engagement with the Council and their local residents by event organisers.
A Committee member asked about the possibility of flexibility for extending the dates for festivals, etc. Linda Holland responded that this would depend on the licence held – she would be as flexible as the law allowed. A minor variation to a licence could be applied for at a cost of £89.
A Committee member suggested that Councillors could consider how they could informally police events and direct them to support to ensure that events were Covid secure so that all those attending events in Wiltshire were safe. Councillors had a vested interested to keep their eyes and ears open to ask their communities to tread carefully and not create any risks with their events. Councillors were concerned with a potential risk arising from people from outside the county attending events which are not Covid secure.
Linda Holland agreed that the public are looking forward to having fun this year out in the fresh air and that there would be others coming in from other areas to our events. All event dates are still “proposed” and there were no guarantees that they would be able to go ahead as they can only happen when it was safe to do so.
The Chair asked for an update on festivals and large-scale events to be provided at the next meeting.
1. That the Licensing Committee note the update on behalf of the Licensing Team.
2. That an update on festivals and large-scale events be provided at the next meeting on 7 June 2021.