Clearing a path through licensing’s ‘new normal’

Pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels which have survived the lockdown are having to make wholesale changes to the way they operate so they conform to restrictions imposed as the Covid-19 lockdown is eased.

Social distancing, controlled customer numbers, records of who’s eating and drinking where – these are just some of the measures which will test the resolve of licensees and proprietors.

On top of all that is the question of complying with the terms of a licence. The ‘new normal’ is going to bring all sorts of additional complications for licence holders, and the current health issues will mean that operating standards are scrutinised more carefully than ever.

Complete Licensing, a newly-established ‘one-stop licensing shop’, can take the stress and strain out of these compliance issues.

The company draws on the experience of consultants from all areas of the hospitality licensing sector: lawyers, former police officers and business leaders who have overseen some of the biggest and most challenging nightlife venues in the country.

“Getting a licence is the ticket to trade in the hospitality industry. It’s the most important piece of paper in the business,” says Complete Licensing’s Richard Bunch. A former police licensing officer – his brief in London’s Westminster was to oversee 6,000 licensed premises from small bars to casinos, hotels and top-end nightclubs – Richard is more aware than most of the need to get it right and keep it right.

“Operators become blasé and fail to keep to the terms of their licence. I can’t count the number of times people have lost their licence because they haven’t complied with its requirements and then react with total shock. You’ve got to keep on top of every aspect of your business – not just the finances,” he says.

Complete Licensing’s role is to ensure every aspect of licence compliance is defined, met and sustained. CL checks and advises on everything from staff safety and incident reporting to hygiene, noise and crowd control and having properly qualified people in positions of responsibility. And the company is also there if things go wrong – acting at local authority hearings on behalf of clients and stepping in to identify issues which might cause future problems.

“Covid-19 has really focused minds on correct operation,” says Richard Bunch. “Every local authority is going to be going over licences and applications with the finest toothcomb so our role has become more important than ever. Our expertise can take the stress out of the lives of operators – and we will save them a lot of money in the long and even medium term. Our modus operandi is very much: ‘Have experts around you. Use the right people to do different things’. This applies to us and it means we use real experts with years of experience for every area of our business.”

CL’s legal expert, Marcus Lavell, points to further fresh issues licence holders are facing: “The industry is always evolving, and we work very hard to keep abreast of changes, but there are new challenges with the current health crisis and the new Business and Planning Bill currently being pushed through Parliament.

“This will provide for automatic off-sales for premises with on-sales licences and will create a ‘fast track’ procedure for tables and chairs to be permitted on the highway, for a fixed fee. This legislation, which will be in place for a year, will ensure applications are brought before local authorities within a two-week timetable. So, with the accent on speed, licence-holders need the right advice and guidance to comply with the regulations. We are experts in this field and professional advice can make the difference between trading again quickly in favourable conditions and missing out.”

There’s going to be plenty of cooperation between neighbouring pubs, bars and restaurants in this awakening world of hospitality, but operators know that having ‘the edge’ is as crucial as ever.

Complete Licensing can ensure their clients gain that advantage. As Richard Bunch says: “We focus on keeping operators in business, so they can focus on running that business.”