Susan Young, who runs Nantybwch Service Station at Tredeger in Gwent, was bemused to get a letter from a firm of solicitors in Merthyr Tydfil, suggesting that she might like to use their services in renewing her off licence and urging her to reply by November 10. Susan wondered if there was something she should know.
She faxed a copy of the letter to me and I was just as puzzled. The letter explains that there will be a major shake-up of the licensing laws and points out that Susan will be automatically entitled to ‘grandfather rights’ in that she is already a licensee. It also points out that she may wish to contemplate making any changes (different hours of trading for example) when she applies for conversion. The firm further explains that it cannot tell her what its fees will be because the local authorities haven’t yet made clear what they will charge. So far, so good. All of the above is true.
Then the letter adds that, because it only recently became apparent that the regular three-year licence renewals (the Brewster Sessions) would still apply in 2004, it would be necessary to return the form to the solicitors by November 10.
The first thing that occurred to me was that, if Susan received such a letter, she wouldn’t be the only one. She is not a newcomer to licensing (indeed her father, Ben Breen, was a bit of an entrepreneur – the first forecourt operator to get a licence in Wales in 1980). But some with less experience might react to the urgency of the letter and sign up for help. Pricey help I would think.
So far, in licensing, nothing has changed. We all thought that by now, the Brewster Sessions would have been relegated to the scrapheap because the new laws were meant to be tidily in place by next spring.
However, as Shane Brennan, public affairs executive at the Association of Convenience Stores tells me: “We’re still waiting for the secondary regulations to go before parliament and then there will be a six-month transitional period so the cut-off date for conversions could be later than September as we initially expected. It all depends on when the starting gun goes off.”
Shane allows that the procedures are confusing. “And so it is possible for some organisations to feed on this although it was never the government’s intention for it to carry a professional burden.”
I think this is exactly what this firm of solicitors is doing. The November deadline could be two-fold. It will instil a sense of urgency and it will no doubt be good for the firm to get its list of clients in place in plenty of time and will no doubt do a proper job for them, but, sorry about the refrain, at a price. Susan can renew her licence, as usual, for £30. And although she should be thinking about the conversion and what changes she may like to make, there is no panic.