A leading Scottish lawyer said local authority licensing boards must “step up” and support the drinks trade to recover from the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown.
Licensed premises including bars, restaurants and cafes were ordered to close in March in a bid to slow the pandemic.
Aberdeenshire-based licensing specialist Janet Hood contacted the 32 Scottish boards which issue licenses for premises, individuals and special events in Scotland and found some had adapted their procedures to continue operating during the restrictions, while others had “effectively shut up shop.”
Ms Hood said: “Out of those who responded, it seems there are four operating really well, 13 operating in some capacity and 15 have effectively shut up shop.
“On one hand you have boards such as Aberdeenshire and Angus that are pulling out all the stops to keep the licensed trade going by using video technology and quickly processing non-contentious applications, while on the other hand, others seem to have stalled completely.”
Ms Hood highlighted licensees need permission for a broad range of activities, including extensions to opening hours and outside drinking areas and businesses must be able to move forward when the lockdown is eased.
“People appreciate the need for restrictions, but the licensing boards sitting on their hands will potentially walk into a massive backlog of applications and further delay could be the final nail in the coffin for too many businesses.”
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act has amended licensing matters to be dealt with in a variety of ways and states the board must give any person who would have been given the opportunity to be heard at a hearing the chance to be heard by telephone or written representation, including electronic communication and video conferencing.
The chairman of Angus licensing board, Monifieth and Sidlaw Conservative councillor, Craig Fotherhingham praised council staff for “doing an incredible job” keeping licensing applications moving.
He said: “The licensed trade plays a vital role in the local and national economy and that is why are keen to continue processing applications and dealing with applicants as quickly as possible.
“The impact of this awful pandemic could be catastrophic for a trade that was already facing significant economic challenges in many cases.
“As a licensing board, we will do everything we can to support the trade and I call on other boards to do the same.”
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