Time to reduce our highly restrictive an anticompetitive licensing laws…

I thought this was worth a mention for Tim Martin from JD Wetherspoon highlighting the crippling cost of drinks licences in the region.

He said:

“You have to pay an astronomical amount for a drinks licence here, whereas in Dublin and London they have removed most of the restrictions and you get a quicker response to changing trends in the industry. In London and Dublin at the moment there’s a lot of craft beer bars set up by small entrepreneurs, but here a licence could set you back anywhere from £100,000 to £1million.

“This absolute restriction on the number of licences is unhelpful to the industry.

“You’re essentially always waiting for an old licence to come up and I think it holds cities back – not just Belfast, but Derry and Omagh, too.
“I think pubs and restaurants are an important part of the economy both north and south of the border and it’s very important they’re regenerated.”

I will leave it for the academics to determine if there is a link between our highly restrictive opening hours of our pubs and bars and the rise of binge drinking, but from a business perspective, I think it is worth picking up on Tim’s point about the potential for craft beer bars set up by local entrepreneurs and the role businesses such as these could play in regenerating and reinventing our high streets.

At a time when the internet and high business rates are decimating the high street, surely we should be thinking outside the box to encourage the regeneration of our high streets and small craft pubs and bars could be another good use of vacant property and help revive some of our towns which have effectively lost their night time economies. They could be the catalyst that encourages other businesses such as restaurants to open nearby in response to higher evening footfall in a town or village.

But before the NI temperance lobby start to post their vitriol on this post, no one is suggesting for a second that we flood our high streets with pubs and bars, I am simply suggesting that the current licensing model means these businesses can’t even exist here in NI and licensing reform is long overdue so our high streets can start to fight back against the last ten years of decline and at least start to resemble the best exemplar towns and villages the rest of the UK and ROI have to offer.

Also in the news is the plan to change the restrictive Easter licensing laws in the Republic of Ireland:

The chief executive of a leading Northern Irish hospitality organisation has said the North would “be the loser” if the Republic changed its Easter licensing laws.

Colin Neill, from Hospitality Ulster, said the Goverment’s plans to allow the Republic’s pubs and restaurants to sell alcohol on Good Friday means that “once again we are left lagging behind our second-largest tourism market and nearest competitor, the Republic of Ireland.

“With progressive licensing laws that offer customers what they want and a tourism VAT rate of 9 per cent [in the Republic], it’s Northern Ireland that will lose out, and that’s a fact,” he said.

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