Licensing bodies have moved to “crisis planning” over a looming deadline to renew liquor permits which could leave thousands of Tayside firms in chaos, according to a leading trade expert.
Angus-based specialist Janet Hood has warned thousands of restaurants, pubs and traders across Courier Country could be marched into job losses and closures unless the Scottish Government urgently acts to clarify its position.
Around 40,000 licence holders across Scotland will need to finalise their request for renewal by the end of May 2019 but the Scottish Government has still not told licensing boards what fees should be applied or set out what training will need to be undertaken.
With just seven weeks until the floodgates open on the first batch of renewals, industry leaders fear a rerun of 2014, when 10,000 individuals saw their licences revoked due to failure to complete the process in time.
Highland licensing standards officers have already written to businesses “to suggest in the very strongest terms” that licence holders sign up for “heavily subscribed” training as soon as possible.
Ian Cox, the Highland Council officer who helped write the advice, said: “The Scottish Government has had nine years to sort this out, it really should not still be in abeyance at the 11th hour and 45th minute.
“There has been ample warning and it should have been resolved long ago. The sooner a definitive process is agreed the better — we will need literally every minute and every day to get this done.”
All businesses selling alcohol in Scotland require to have at least one fully-trained premises manager, who must hold a personal licence issued by a licensing board.
Ms Hood said she could understand industry fears given the “confusing advice and signals” coming from officials.
She said: “It cannot be beyond the competence of the Scottish Government to issue clear guidance and put an end to this dreadful situation which is likely to lead to thousands of personal licence holders losing their licences.
“I think that what we’re seeing now is crisis planning. We don’t know what to advise clients and as an industry, we can’t afford to get this wrong.
“Everyone – the trade, their advisers, licensing boards, standards officers and trainers – is confused, and I would urge the Scottish Government to act now to remedy the situation.”
It is understood trade is being advised to push ahead with current refresher training models despite timings appearing to be different from those laid down by the Scottish Government for renewal.
Officials have issued a public consultation on setting a fee, with a deadline for responses set for 15 August.
A spokesman said any necessary secondary legislation “will be presented to the Scottish Parliament when it resumes in the Autumn”.
The spokesman added: “The personal licence remains a key element of the alcohol licensing regime.
“We are undertaking detailed engagement with stakeholders to firm up and publicise arrangements ahead of the ten year point for personal licences in September 2019.”