A leading expert has urged the Scottish Government to delay a looming renewal of personal liquor licences or risk throwing the industry into “complete meltdown”.
Angus-based specialist Janet Hood said she will write to the Scottish Government directly to highlight a growing bewilderment in the licensed trade about the lack of information available just weeks before floodgates open on renewals.
It comes after official advice issued this week was branded “utterly inadequate” by the convener of North Ayrshire licensing board Ronnie McNicol, who claimed it raises more questions than it answers.
The Courier reported in June how lawyers, council officials and leading figures in Scotland’s licensed trade had come together to warn thousands of pubs and clubs could be forced to close if staff are unable to get the paperwork they need in time.
At least 24,000 licence holders will need to finalise their request for renewal by the end of May 2019.
The Scottish Government has still not told licensing boards what fees should be applied or answered concerns over the type of training to be undertaken.
Ms Hood said: “Many of my clients are completely bewildered and furious about the way this has played out. The advice from the Scottish Government has been about as much use as a paper ashtray.
“It has made for utterly depressing reading and my honest feeling is that this is now beyond being able to be fixed. I simply do not think they have the time.
“Many of my clients feel they are in serious threat of losing their business. Everyone I speak to is saying this is going to be a nightmare and the only ones who don’t seem to realise it are the Scottish Government.”
Current advice issued to trade suggests boards should initially process applications without a fee, meaning applicants do not know how much they may eventually need to pay for the licence or their training.
A suggested £50 fee, which is currently under consultation, would be inadequate to meet basic licensing board costs, according to Mr McNicol.
Personal licence holders are also being advised to undertake training which is several years out of date and fails to cover a number of legal changes such as minimum unit pricing and aspects of the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act.
While the specification will eventually be updated, the proposed timings mean corrected programmes may only become available shortly before the final deadline and could result in some paying for out-of-date courses.
There are also issues around immigration checks and ‘fit and proper person’ tests, which experts say have yet to be resolved.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are keen to support the renewals process and we have issued a communications document for personal licence holders, the trade, and licensing boards to ensure the effective communication of arrangements to all stakeholders.
“We recommend that affected personal licence holders book and undertake their refresher training now and submit their renewal applications as soon as possible ahead of the deadline on May 31, 2019.”