THOUSANDS of people in the hospitality and retail industries are at risk of losing their jobs because businesses across Scotland are failing to comply with recent legislation.
Concern is mounting that more than 30,000 workers in outlets ranging from corner shops to hotels and nightclubs have yet to meet legal requirements to pass training courses aimed at weeding out substandard operators in the licensed trade, and face having their approval to sell alcohol revoked.
Despite being given five years after the introduction of the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 to be fully trained up, as is required of "personal licence holders", most face missing the August 31 deadline. Since late 2009, when the act came into force, only around 1300 have passed approved courses, which last a day at most.
Experts and trade groups now fear a crisis where if, as expected, thousands do not meet their obligations, pubs, restaurants and even small super-markets will be trading illegally once the deadline passes.
They claim the requirements are "buried" within reams of red tape and have been poorly advertised, with the onus on local authorities to flag up the potential crisis and employers to deal with it.
Premises would be required to close until they had a fully trained and approved manager, while those who have had their licences withdrawn have no right of appeal and cannot re-apply for five years. Non-compliance also raises the prospect of prosecutions and "premises licence" reviews, where the sanctions include closure.
Unlicensed managers could lose their jobs, as would staff further down the chain if their employment is cond-itional on holding a personal licence.
Licensing boards are required to send reminder letters by May but there are doubts they have the resources to cope with the administrative deluge.
Insiders claim the stampede and snarl-up in the system threatens to be much worse than in 2009, when the Scottish Government was forced to introduce secondary legislation to deal with the backlog of individuals who needed to be vetted and approved for the new act.
Patrick Browne, of the Scottish Beer and Pub Association, which represents more than 5000 pubs and major brewers, said: "This is concerning and a much bigger problem than we had during the transition to the current act. The process is much more onerous than it needs to be, especially for small oper-ators focused on running a business."
John Lee, of the Scottish Grocer's Federation, said: "There's a real danger local authorities could be overwhelmed by a sudden spike in applications which will have a potentially devastating knock-on effect on retailers.
"Licensing boards are not being proactive in getting information to the people who need it."
Anyone who is the manager of any premises where alcohol is sold requires a personal licence, which also authorises the sale of liquor by others. Many premises have multiple personal licence holders so one is on duty at all times. Holding a personal licence is often a condition of employment.
But trade awareness of the training requirement is alarmingly low.
Leading licensing law expert Jack Cummins said: "There's the potential for a quite extraordinary meltdown. The big hospitality and retail players are already well organised, but thous-ands of smaller operators and their staff don't seem to understand they are courting disaster."
Stephen McGowan, chairman of trade body BII Scotland and lawyer at TLT Solicitors, added: "This is serious stuff. The numbers are frightening. The reason so few have taken the course is a mix of ignorance and procrastination.
"The training requirement is buried away in the Licensing Act and has been poorly advertised."
A Scottish Government spokes-woman said: "We urge personal licence holders to undergo their refresher training and submit certificates and other details to the relevant licensing board as soon as possible. If personal licence holders miss their deadlines their licences will be revoked. Refresher training courses have been available since summer 2013."