A Scottish licensing chief has slammed proposals to freeze fees for people applying for a permit to sell alcohol amid claims renewal charges would fail to meet even basic costs.
North Ayrshire licensing board convener Ronnie McNicol said Scottish Government plans to set renewal fees for personal licences at the current application rate of £50 could leave taxpayers picking up the tab.
Tayside licensing specialist Janet Hood also criticised the proposed fee, which would match initial charges set in 2007, for failing to take into account additional costs incurred by licensing boards over the past decade.
Mr McNicol said: “The last time people applied for personal licences was in 2007 and the fee was £50. Taking into account inflation over the past 10 years, the new fee should be at least £62.
“However, we feel that an appropriate fee would be £80 as that would recognise the additional costs which have been incurred since 2007 as well as the additional responsibilities.
“Since personal licences were introduced, the amount of processing involved has increased – covering areas such as immigration and checking that an applicant is a fit and proper person – which has a knock-on effect on staff time and associated costs.
“Inadequate fees either mean the real cost is paid by council tax payers or they impact on the service which applicants receive.
“It is important that the licensing system is self-funding. If central government is to retain the right to set local fees, these need to be set at a realistic level.”
In order to sell alcohol in pubs and other licensed premises, a premises manager requires to hold a personal licence issued by a local licensing board.
Tens of thousands of licence holders will have to apply for renewal during the period from now until May 31, 2019, and the process has already been wracked with controversy.
Ms Hood, who has been accredited by the Law Society of Scotland as a specialist for more than two decades, urged ministers to delay the renewal process or risk throwing licensed trade into “complete meltdown”.
She said there was wide agreement among clerks that the proposed fees would be insufficient to support the renewal process and would put licensing boards under undue pressure.
A Scottish Government spokesman confirmed provisions for a fee of £50 to be payable to licensing boards under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 had been laid before the Scottish Parliament.
He said: “We recently undertook a public consultation on whether or not to introduce a fee for applying to renew a personal licence.
“The consultation responses have been carefully considered and the decision has been taken to create a fee at renewal of £50. This matches the existing fee on initial application.”
Subject to the approval of parliamentarians, the renewal charge will come into effect from 5pm on October 1.