A safe port in any licensing storm

When you’ve dealt with everything from irate clubbers in central London to irate hotel guests, a licensing hearing might seem like a breeze.

“In some ways, the approach is the same,” says Jim Sollars, who can draw on 35 years’ policing experience and five more helping to run a dive resort in the Bahamas. “You have to be able to provide people with what they want, to speak to them appropriately.”

‘Big Jim’ – a nickname well-suited to his outsized frame – is an integral part of the Complete Licensing team. He deals with all areas of compliance, completes Best Bar None inspections and regularly gives expert opinion licensing application meetings and on a continuing basis once licences have been granted.

As a former Metropolitan Police licensing officer in Westminster, Jim has seen and dealt with pretty much anything the licensed trade could throw at him. He works closely with another former colleague, Richard Bunch, as well as our legal team and other advisers.

“We’re all experts in our field, and we each have our own specialist area. After years of practice, I’m good at reading licences and understanding conditions and how we can comply with them.”

Jim’s experience came from representing the Met at weekly licensing meetings of Westminster Council and at dedicated hearings. “I have been opposed at hearings by solicitors, barristers, even QCs. I realised it was in my interests to gain deep knowledge and read up extensively on law; I learned from every experience and from every opponent at hearings, and many of those who opposed me are now friends.

“When it comes to compliance you have to read absolutely everything. Applications are an art and if you’re representing a club or venue with an investment of millions you have an obligation to master that art on their behalf.

“As a key member of the Met’s Westminster licensing team I was the contact between many agencies – I advised the mayor on policing Pride, New Year’s Eve, I liaised at ‘Gold’ meetings dealing with the Notting Hill Carnival.”

Jim became the ‘go to’ person for the biggest events in and around Westminster as well as everyday ones, from the Queen’s Golden Jubilee to everyday TEN notices, applications and reviews. Before retiring from the Met in 2019, he was team manager of the Westminster licensing team.

He joined the Met in 1980 and worked as a uniformed officer, in crime squad and as a regular policeman in Westminster before becoming the ‘village policeman’ for Soho. He also spent almost a decade with the licensing team, though in between those two positions he took a lengthy career break.

“My wife and I wanted something completely different, which wound up being a five-year stint in the Bahamas, managing a hotel and organising scuba dives for guests – which brought its own challenges, above and beneath the waves. When children came along we came back to the UK and I rejoined the Met before retiring as head of the licensing team in 2019.

“I was volunteering at an animal sanctuary when Complete Licensing got in touch and it made perfect sense to accept their offer. I knew the work inside out and I knew those I’d be working with – great people, and all of them respected and full of expertise.

“All my police work and my time in the Bahamas was about dealing with people, acquiring excellent communications skills and understanding how and when to be firm with people. That’s what enables me to guide clients through an application or go in for those who’ve fallen foul of authorities and troubleshoot – the people skills and the ability to thoroughly check everything is in order, to sort out things which have gone wrong or are lacking, and to problem-solve quickly and effectively.

“Our job is to make sure clients get everything out of applications. A good licence means a happy client, but there is never any question of corner-cutting,” Jim says.

“There are so many issues to comply with in licensing – anti-terrorism, staff mental health, hygiene, dispersal policies, data control, CCTV, age checks, sound, drugs staff and customer safety, vulnerable people – but our Complete Licensing team covers every area and I’m proud to be a part of that."