Old Johnston’s Almanack 2015

Taking stock at this time of year is fine: however, those of us with the second sight look ahead. Old Johnston does not like what he sees.

On the business side, the future for the licensed trade is, despite the economic upturn, horribly bleak. Small pubs will continue to feel the pinch, much as small independent shops disappeared from our high streets in the 1970s and 80s. The new drink driving limit will hasten the process across the board. Guys who would go for two pints after work on a Friday will say, what is the point of one drink, and abandon the pub altogether. Those who, sensibly, turned to food as a source of profit will see the couple who split a bottle of wine change their ways or stop coming out altogether. Golf clubs, already encountering a storm of recession and apathy among the young, will see that storm perfected  by the new law. A month into the new regime, clubs are reporting a downturn in drink sales of a staggering 70%. Rub your hands, developers, there will be a lot more land available in a couple of years. Oh MSPs, did you consider this, or is it to be one more of your unintended consequences?

We will have new legislation, yet again. Will the final version be good, bad or merely indifferent?

I predict a complete mess on the subject of sexual entertainment venues. To be a servant of twa masters is hard enough: to be regulated by two different authorities is the stuff of nightmares. When the country’s two major cities, just 40 miles apart, have diametrically opposed views, who knows where it will end? One thing is certain – House’s Strathclyde based, jackbooted views will be felt across the land. Where are the checks and balance for the police now?

I really don’t care about the reintroduction of the fit and proper test, but I do care that the fundamental weaknesses of the 2005 Act have been ignored. The transfer problems have been highlighted since the 2005 Act was a bill. It is scandalous that they have been overlooked yet again. It seems that our lawmakers are completely oblivious to the interests of landlords. Not only do they provide no safeguards against surrender of a licence by a disaffected tenant, they are about to provide for an automatic revocation if that tenant is deemed to be no longer a “fit and proper person” to hold that licence. Yet the regime is such that a landlord cannot possibly comply with the statutory requirements if he holds the licence in his own name: indeed, he risks prosecution.

Many of will have been pleased to see the back of Kenny Macaskill, but it remains to be seen if his successor will grasp the issues, never mind the nettle.

One very positive feature of the last few years has been the rise in standards of licensing boards. I hope that will continue; however, where there is change there is chaos. Excellent opportunities for licensing lawyers, but uncertainty and stress for boards and the overworked clerks who have to try to keep them right.

2014 saw many operators hanging on by their fingertips. I fear that in many cases the grip will be lost altogether. My final hope is that Old Johnston is proved to have been hopelessly wrong. Hope for the best – but fear the worst. Happy 2015

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