THE act that governs licensing aspects of Scotland’s drinks regulations – rules such as how many licences are needed to run a liquor retailing business, who may hold a licence, what principles they must observe as they use their licence and how, why and by whom a licence can be taken away – is known as the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005.
It was eventually fully enacted on 1 September 2009.
Why the four-year gap? Well, the changes to the previous system were many. The Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament, in full sessions plus detailed committee analysis and debate, hadn’t so much overhauled the previous system as rebuilt it entirely.
Licensing law changes which had occurred a little while before in England had been heavily criticised as being rushed through the legislative process and then enacted too quickly. In Scotland there were complicated rules about so-called “grandfather rights”. They were safeguards both to reassure businesses, especially pubs, hotels and nightclubs, that they wouldn’t lose trading hours they had in place under the old rules, and dissuade businesses from making changes to buildings or trading hours that would complicate matters in the changeover to a new system, which is designed to examine and approve all licences one by one.
Actually the changes that were planned for the off-trade were less complicated, though since then we’ve also had major changes in rules over the off-trade marketing of alcohol.
But one thing that changed on both sides of the licensed trade was the introduction of a new personal licence. Only holders of a personal licence would be able to run a licensed trade business as a designated premises manager, only personal licence holders would be able to train a business’s other drinks retailing staff, delivering the mandatory two hours education in licensing matters that was also required under the new act.
To get a personal licence you had to be over 18, you had to train, usually for a day, sit an exam and gain the Scottish Certificate for Personal Licence Holders (SCPLH). You then had to apply for a licence to your local licensing board and pay the necessary fee.
The board normally granted the licence once some vetting had been carried out to make sure the applicant wasn’t disallowed in some way.
Once a personal licence holder had a licence he or she had to undertake to tell the board if they moved address and if they were found guilty of one of a number of reportable offences.
And to keep their licence they would have to undertake refresher training and gain the Scottish Certificate for Personal Licence Holders Refresher (SCPLHR) certificate before a date five years after the issue date of their personal licence.
To make things simpler the government decided that everyone who gained their personal licence in the long transitional period in the run-up to enactment day would be considered to have been issued with their licence on that date – 1 September 2009.
Now we are almost five years on and all of those people who were given that magic personal licence issue date should be busy arranging their new training so they can take a course and become the proud owner of an SCPLHR certificate on or before the all-important deadline, 31 August 2014.
So, is it all going smoothly? No!
There is a worrying lack of urgency about the need to gain the Scottish Certificate for Personal Licence Holders Refresher qualification. That’s the feeling across the training agencies that find themselves gearing up for a last-minute panic.
“Take up for the refresher training is dangerously slow,” Peter Fulton of training provider, ABV told Scottish Grocer. “This, unfortunately, is exactly what we expected it to be. In 2009 when the new Licensing Act appeared far too many people left their training until the last minute. Again the same picture is developing now that the five-year deadline to complete mandatory refresher training approaches.
“We understand that people tend to leave things closer to the deadline rather than pay out and commit before they actually have to.
“However the real danger here is that as the deadline approaches – and it is now four months away – demand will make finding quality providers difficult and perhaps expensive.”
Sue Beatt of People Solutions agreed. “Demand has not been huge. We expect that everyone will suddenly realise they have to get it done and, if they are not careful, they will struggle. They do not realise how much demand there will be.”
At City of Glasgow College, business manager Jacqui Massie said that, as a large institution, the college is well-placed to respond to any last-minute rush. “At the moment we are running one SCPLHR course a month,” she explained. “But we can run these courses as often as they are needed.” She anticipates running one course a week by June.
“We have a lot of flexibility. There is no shortage of accommodation here, or we can run a course on the client’s premises if they have a suitable room.”
The college is also set up to deal with students with special learning needs such as dyslexia, visual impairments or learning difficulties. There is a learning support department on site, with a scribe service, a reader service and every other facility required. The college is also fully wheelchair accessible.
The college is also a registered ILA centre, as is People Solutions. That means that students can use an ILA (Individual Learning Account) which provides up to £200 for vocational training.
The refresher training syllabus is set out by the Scottish Government, and must be covered by every training provider. Every person taking the course is issued with a training booklet at least 48 hours before the start date and is expected to have read it carefully beforehand.
The refresher course – which lasts half a day, with the exam at the end – is designed to take the licence holder back through the basics of licensing law: personal, premises and occasional licences; hours; control of order; police powers; protection of children and responsible retailing of alcohol. There is extra emphasis on the relationship adults have with alcohol and the harm alcohol appears to do to the general health of Scotland.
Sue Beatt explained: “There have been some amendments since the act was introduced, and some loopholes have been closed. Licensees have to be much more aware of the products they are selling. There have also been changes in the proof-of-age ID that’s acceptable, to take account of the needs of EU migrants living in Scotland.”
Where different training providers differ is the way they deliver the syllabus. Beatt, whose background is in learning and development, aims to make her courses as interactive and interesting as possible. “There is discussion, individual and group exercises, people talk about their own circumstances,” she explained.
The wide range of people who are sitting the refresher course means that every session is slightly different. “This morning’s course had one person from a pub, one from a hotel, one from a bowling club and two from off-licences.”
Feedback, she said, is positive. “People sometimes arrive thinking, oh no, here we go, but when they leave they say that they have learned new things and refreshed their memories as well.”
Across the industry, training organisations report an extremely high pass rate for the SCPLHR course. Jacqui Massie said the only students she has seen struggling are ones who do not speak English as their first language. Unlike some other professional courses offered by City of Glasgow College, such as food hygiene, the SCPLH and SCPLHR courses are not offered in any other languages.
There is widespread agreement that PLHs who have not booked their refresher training have no time to waste.
“If you do not complete the right training at the right time and send the right proof to the right board before the deadline you will have your licence revoked,” Peter Fulton stressed. “This means that you are disqualified from holding another personal licence for a minimum of five years.”
All of ABV’s regular clients have refresher course dates booked and some have actually already completed and submitted the majority of their documents well ahead of the deadline. For everyone else, Fulton has an important warning: “Beware the circulating myth that training has to be completed by the end of November. It really does not. This is wrong information. It has to be completed by 31 August 2014. From then on it becomes the anniversary of the licence issue dates that determines the timescale.”
So, what’s new to learn?
ONE of the major changes that has come into force since the first licence holders sat their exams ahead of September 2009 covers the new forms of ID that are acceptable for proof of age.
Before recent changes on 1 October 2013, the only officially sanctioned IDs were a passport, an EU photographic driver’s licence or a PASS card approved by the British Retail Consortium.
As of 1 October, several other forms of ID were added to the list. They include: Ministry of Defence ID (also known as Form 90); photo ID bearing the PASS hologram; EU member state national identity cards; photographic identity cards from Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland; and a biometric immigration document.