Business

Another licensing law consultation under way - but no cheers just yet

There'll be no clinking of glasses just yet despite another consultation being launched to reform licensing legislation in the north

ANOTHER consultation on the law relating to the retail sale and supply of alcoholic drinks in the north has been formally launched by the Department for Communities.

But there'll be no clinking of glasses and cries of slainte just yet in a hospitality industry worth £1.2 billion and which sustains 60,000 jobs.

For while industry bodies have given it a lukewarm welcome, they are aware its an issue which has been consulted on for many years with only limited law change.

The department wants to hear from the public and industry on current liquor licensing laws, how they impact on individuals and organisations, and what changes could be made in the future to ensure the north has a more flexible and modern licensing framework to respond to changing expectations and lifestyles.

The likes of Hospitality Ulster has been championing changes for a decade or more, but cautions: “Unfortunately we've been here several times before without movement.”

Its chief executive Colin Neill said: “We commend the Department's permanent secretary for undertaking the preparatory work in advance of a return of government in Northern Ireland and we hope this consultation will help ensure our licensing laws can be modernised at the earliest opportunity.

“But a bill to reform our outdated licensing laws had already been introduced to the last Assembly prior to its collapse, with much of the heavy lifting in terms of drafting already carried out.

“By re-consulting it may feel like we are back to square one, but with the last consultation now seven years old, it's vital this is updated and ready for action once we have a government, allowing them to move forward swiftly and decisively, and address the outdated law as it currently sits.”

Mr Neill claims the industry is currently working in "an anti-business environment" where the sector is struggling with high rate of hospitality VAT, extortionate business rates and ever increasing wage bills, compounded by labour and migration issues brought about by Brexit fears.

He added: “The hospitality sector is the backbone of our tourism offer and economy, but its growth is being heavily curtailed by legislative paralysis and is a major cause in restricting our potential.

“Tens of millions of pounds are being lost every year, and this position is continuing to damage our international reputation. Any competitive advantage that we have as a European destination is being eroded.”

“So modernisation of our outdated licensing laws are long overdue and it must be addressed as a matter of priority.”

The department cautions that law changes must be made in the context that in Northern Ireland 303 deaths due to alcohol were recorded in 2017 and there has been a 15 per cent increase in hospital admissions wholly related to alcohol and 43.3 per cent of the general public report they are concerned about alcohol-related issues in their area.

The consultation period runs until December 6 (details at www.communities-ni.gov.uk/consultations/consultation-liquor-licensing-laws-northern-ireland).

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