Alex Massie

Guinness is Good For You; Government Is Not

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In the past nine months four pubs in Selkirk, my home town, have closed. It would be simplistic to presume that the liberty-quashing smoking ban was the sole cause of this regrettable trend; it would be idiotic to suppose it didn't play a part.

Still, that's only one part of legislators' attempts to run publicans out of town. Consider this latest wheeze, for instance, as told by the Southern Reporter:

Pub licensees, who currently pay £172 for a three-year licence to sell alcohol, will have to fork out up to £1,600 just to register their premises under the new [licensing] system. An annual fee on top of that has yet to be worked out.

Registration also involves all applicants, old and new, commissioning and presenting detailed drawings of their outlets to ensure they comply with fire and health and safety regulations. Such plans must also highlight seating arrangements and areas suitable for children. Operating plans and risk assessments must also be supplied.

On top of that, every operator must obtain a personal licence costing £50. Only after special training, again underwritten by the premises licensee, will these authorisations be granted.

...The new regime must be fully in place by September next year to meet the requirements of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005.

Lord knows what was so very terrible about the old system. But according to a spokeswoman for Scottish Borders Council,

"The new system must be self-financing so the fees reflect the need for us to take on two licensing standards officers, who will police the system and whose posts are currently being advertised."

I presume, incidentally, that "operator" in this context means "bar staff". How much training does it really take to learn how to pull a pint and what justification does the council have for charging pub-owners £50 for each of their staff to demonstrate that they know their heavy from their stout? UPDATE: I'm told in fact that "operator" refers to the licensee not bar staff.

Also:

The new conditions outlaw any irresponsible [emphasis added] drink promotions, including any drink likely to "appeal largely to people under 18", free drinks on the purchase of other drinks, and anything which encourages the quick consumption of alcohol, for example, happy hours.

Leaving the question of how you can appeal to under-age drinkers, it seems that they're trying outlaw a) thirst and b) closing time - both of which encourage rapid boozing.

Jesus wept.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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