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Licence for trouble in hospitality trade

It is likely that for some people, reading The Herald this morning will have brought an unwelcome revelation and a surge of panic.

Time is running out for nearly 30,000 people working in the retail and hospitality sector, in bars, restaurants, cafes and shops, who are required by law to pass training courses to ensure their fitness to sell alcohol. Having had five years to undertake the courses, only 1300 out of the 30,000 still required to pass a training course have done so; the others risk missing the deadline at the end of August.

Industry experts predict a logjam in the system as panicked publicans and shop owners try to sign up for the courses this summer, but also fear many will not do so simply because they do not know about the requirement. Non-compliance, even if it is through ignorance rather than avoidance, could lead to shops and pubs being closed and potentially the loss of a great many jobs. It is a very worrying scenario.

The courses for "personal licences" are intended to ensure that anyone who sells alcohol knows his or her obligations in law and is trained in matters such as enforcing age restrictions and dealing with inebriated customers. Anyone who manages a premises where alcohol is sold requires a personal licence.

What is not clear is how rigidly the law will be enforced by police, but anyone relying on the authorities turning a blind eye will be taking a risk. Police Scotland's energetic chief constable, Stephen House, has identified alcohol-related violence as one of the force's priorities and has a track record of taking a keen interest in how the law on alcohol sales is applied. Would the police shut down hundreds of shops and bars because their managers had not passed the exam? If not, it makes the law ridiculous, particularly after the licensed trade has had so long to comply (the deadline has already been extended).

Industry bodies report that awareness in the retail and hospitality sectors about this law is "alarmingly low". The Scottish Government and local authorities have a responsibility to ensure that changes in regulations are properly disseminated to those affected, and arguably have not done so proactively enough in this instance, but the duty to stay up to speed with changes in the law lies ultimately with individual shops and pubs.

Unfortunately, such businesses are drowning in red tape. This was a recurring theme in responses to a consultation last year on the Licensing Act. In addition to that bill, two further acts cover other aspects of liquor sales. There is a widespread feeling the Government has over-legislated in this area.

The onerous regulatory burden has a disproportionate effect on small traders such as corner shops which, unlike commercial chains, do not have head offices to keep an eye on legislative changes. The case is growing for the laws affecting the licensed trade to be streamlined.

Could the August deadline be extended again? Perhaps, but ministers may feel that traders have had long enough. Those selling alcohol have no choice but to comply and do so quickly if catastrophe is to be averted.

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retail

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