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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  • DanCan

    There might actually be a group out there who think that a baby bunny is squished every time someone takes a sip of alcohol. Thats their prerogative. The issue is that loads of people who in absolutely no way agree with that way of thinking vote for them anyway. It makes the anti bunny squishing crew think they have the support of an electoral base who agree with their weird ways.
    Also you need a credit union loan to go out these days to a bar in town.

  • AntrimGael

    Some of the prices in Belfast bars and restaurants are shocking. 11/12 pound for a bowl of stew and a fiver for a pint are ridiculous. Add in terrible, surly, disinterested attitudes by staff in many establishments and no wonder people are opting out. Some places in Belfast think they are sitting in London’s West End.

  • Jag

    Fair play to Tim for breaking down barriers in the industry. Down in Dublin, Tim told Guinness (Diageo really) to get stuffed because of their prices.

    http://www.herald.ie/news/my-dad-was-a-guinness-rep-but-theres-none-for-sale-in-this-pub-30460173.html

    You get the feeling that Tim is to pubs what Michael O’Leary is to airlines – a breath of fresh air.

  • ted hagan

    A far bigger problem is the number of people now deciding to drink at home, which is forcing many existing pubs to shut, and that’s something we don’t need when the tourist trade is picking up.

  • Jag

    Is it a vice thing in NI charging these fees to open establishments which sell alcohol? Isn’t there a charge of £25,000 apiece for betting shops in Northern Ireland (there’s no such charge down South).

  • Brian O’Neill

    Not to mention that drinking at home can cause mental health problems. Having a pint and a chat with your mates is extremely therapeutic, especially for men.

    Also people tend to give themselves larger measures when they are at home thus increasing their waistlines and health risk.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Well depends where you go. Call into the Duke of York, The John Hewitt, The Sunflower etc and you will get a good pint and a fed for a reasonable price.

    Don’t forget running a pub is an expensive business. Apart from the obvious staff and stock they have to cope with very expensive rates and insurance costs.

  • hgreen

    Why would I believe pro brexit Tim when he says he’s worried about our economy?

  • Chris Spratt

    I wouldn’t be so hasty to lionize Martin, I agree with him in this case that our present licensing laws need to be defenestrated but I have more than a few qualms about how he runs his business (as well as his advocacy for Brexit while at the same time cheekily requesting freedom of movement be kept so his pubs empire might be kept afloat).

  • hgreen

    Nope, he’s just acting in his own self interest.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I agree that they need modernised but NOT in the way Martin wants;

    if we get rid of the alcohol licence fees then we will almost overnight see a flood of Wetherspoons, Slug & Lettuces, Yates’ Wine Lodges, Edward’s, Frankensteins and other guff that contaminates the British high streets.

    From a tourism point of view I believe pubs should have a special status, they’re part of our tourist angle and as such some sort of relief should apply to traditional pubs or pubs with significant architectural merit.

    Other killers of the pub scene include:

    Cheap supermarket alcohol

    Rates – http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/business/news/bar-boss-blasts-tough-rates-increases-31130377.html

    A FOUR fold rates increase?!!! Away!

    Super pubs – e.g. Magherafelt once upon a time had dozens of pubs (including spirit grocers, yonks ago mind) but in recent times the combined capacity of the 3 biggest pubs runs into thousands i.e bigger than the combined total population of the area’s many smaller villages.

    Had there been a sensible cap on numbers in these places then the smaller pubs would have a chance and magherafelt has something like 8 – 9 pubs now.

    The death of the pub is also a thing in rural England even in the south where they’re relatively prosperous so I don’t see the point in ditching the licences
    as it’s clearly a UK and Ireland wide thing.

  • Jag

    His interest is building revenue by selling value-for-money drinks to customers. Win-win.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    At the expense of independent bars, quality of food and the blandification of the high street.

    Don’t get me wrong, when I was skint on many occasions I frequented them. But…

  • Brian O’Neill

    I would have thought less restrictions would enable smaller more alternative venues to open up. We already have several of the UK chains here.

  • Jag

    It all goes over my head Am Ghobsmacht, I don’t drink alcohol (one of the 25% of adults that doesn’t, I’m not a freak, honest!) and thus, I don’t go to pubs very often.

    I do frequent coffee shops, but can’t remember the last time I was in a Starbucks/Costa/Nero, I prefer independent coffee sellers. But I am thankful to the big boys for revolutionising the market, so that I can get my Americano with a shot of vanilla even in the non-chain coffee shops.

  • Zorin001

    Your own to something with the relief for smaller pubs over the chains, also an issue in England (not sure about NI) is the stranglehold and charges the suppliers hold over pub owners. Private Eye and the Guardian have both had good reports into this and the impact on the average Publican is shocking.

    Cheap booze in the supermarkets I think is the key, I can get 12 bottles of good quality Czech and Japanese beer for a tenner in Tescos. Thats £1.20 a bottle compared to paying around £3.90 – £4.20 for the same in a bar. No wonder people get smashed in their house before heading out (if they make it out at all!)

  • AntrimGael

    To be fair the quality of their food HAS improved over the past year or so however their drinks prices are slowly creeping up. WS is OK during the week but at the weekends I wouldn’t go near it. I do find the door/bar staff there better than a lot of other places.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    That doesn’t appear to be the case though, and the number of chain bars in NI is miniscule compared with Britain, I suspect that’s why Martin wants things changed; we’re a developing market for him whereas for example Glasgow has more chain bars in its city centre than NI does in total.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Indeed, also, how many people does a supermarket employ to sell all that alcohol compared with pubs that would sell and equivalent amount? I’d wager a lot more staff are required in pubs per pint .

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    If memory serves Ireland once had the highest rate of teetotallers in Europe.

  • Zorin001

    If we were allowed to scan the booze through the self-service then I think it would end up near zero!

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Exactly;
    on one hand we have the local pub employing local people, flogging the wares of the big breweries and on the other hand we’d have big supermarkets, employing proportionally less people still flogging the wares of the big boys but with next to no money is staying in Northern Ireland, the trickle down effect is minimal.

  • ted hagan

    Kelly’s Cellars is first rate.

  • Oggins

    Some good bars out there, but i am easily annoyed at overpriced cocktails that seem to be the rage!!

  • Oggins

    Cheap drink by the gallon, appeals to those who can’t afford a night out

  • Oggins

    When i lived in England, i hated going for a drink in the chain pubs. No character, music, all it had was cheap booze and tasteless food

  • Neil

    Used to do stew for a quid too.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    I was told (no proof) that one of the changes the craft brewers in NI would like to see is the ability to sell their product “over the farm gate” so to speak. Apparently you can go to a UK craft brewers, do the tour and buy a crate on the way out but that doesn’t apply here as they need a licence which is unaffordable for the smaller brewery

  • Dónall

    I’d be more worried about the huge rates Belfast City Council charge which means that all but the multinationals can afford to do business here.

  • Zorin001

    I had a chat once at an event with a high up in the Tourist Board a few years ago. They had been arguing till they were blue in the face about easing up on the licencing laws to aid tourism but had been blocked at every turn by the usual suspects up on the Hill.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Absolutely, there’s so many empty shops because of this.

    It affects tourism, smothers business (which means the accompanying unemployment) and detracts from the character of the city:

    “Come to Belfast and enjoy our Nandos, McDonaldds, KFC, Zara, H&M, Accessorize, Marks and Spencers, Tescos and all the shops that you would expect to find in every other UK city!!!”

    Fittingly enough, the only aspect of retail that isn’t swamped by the big names is the pub sector, which, I suspect, is the real reason behind Tim Martin’s criticism.

    Do away with the licences and Belfast will lose another aspect of its individuality.

    Lord knows the architecture is getting a rough time of it: http://www.uahs.org.uk/news/2017-04-02/two-wrongs-don%27t-make-a-right./?q=0&article=235

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Yes, but, did you ever try that whisky Cocktail at the Rabbie Burns themed place, ‘Sweet Aften’? There’s one called ‘the Demise’.
    Expensive but delightful (and a veritable welly to the head).

  • Oggins

    Been, but never tried. I am a big fan of the old fashion. So much so, an old fashion is made most Wednesday nights! Mad men and an old fashion is a good relaxing night!

  • Barneyt

    spot on Brian. When youre out too, you’re more inclined to stick to the “5 and drive” rule, so you can get yourself home! At home you tend to drink more and progress to stronger wines. I jest of course on point 1 🙂

  • Barneyt

    That would be ideal. This is something I am looking at….and if I did produce something that others would drink, it would be nice to sell it as we do eggs, or manure!

  • Barneyt

    We need a new class of pub that can avail of a special independent landlord or community license. The condition might be that you brew your own craft (30%) and provide an outlet for other craft brewers in a specific radius (40%) to sell their produce and the remaining 30% can be offer the standard fair. The last thing we need is for such pubs to be mopped up by some big chain, like those spititless places you have mentioned. This is just a thought as the craft beer industry is making beer more interesting and in my unfounded opinion, encouraging people to drink variety and less volume.

  • Barneyt

    freehold were the best and the variety of beers is out of this world. I struggled with many, but over the years you develop a taste. I associate many of the pubs, particularly the chains, with electric pumps that squirt the thing out at you in an oversized glass to accommodate the oversized head. Guinness delivered in this fashion was a site to behold, but over the years and thanks to the adds (119 seconds wait) they learned a thing or two about the dark stuff.

  • Barneyt

    Thats my thinking but you need protection to stop the larger suppliers chains from ripping the soul out of them

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Exactly, they should be allowed to provide a small tap room where they can flog their wares (but ONLY theirs).

    So you go to the tap room and fill yer boots and leave with some off sales if you wish it.

    Easy and it could be a real shot in the arm for these small breweries.
    In Australia the state of Victoria has quite a few farms that have switched to wine production;

    I went to a functioning farm, had a pizza, tried some wine and left with a bottle too.

    Wine for me, win for the farmer.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    Sounds like a good day out-win,win

  • aquifer

    It is anti competitive, so we get bad industrial beer from the corporates, and local craft brewers cannot get their beers onto the taps.

    More DUP holier than thou non sense.

    Rates relief for tea rooms and coffee shops can be the quid pro quo, if the DUP could count.

  • Zorin001

    Too much money floating around AG for anyone to stick up for North Street, after all North Street Arcade was allowed to go up in flames and nothing but an “investigation” by the police which was quietly closed.

  • Dónall

    Good point Am Gobsmacht how many more Neros does Belfast really need.

  • John Collins

    Are you seriously telling us that Mick Leary is not working on his own interest?

  • Framer

    Drinks licences are hereditary and won’t be given up – ever.

  • John Collins

    Ted
    There is actually far greated potential problems as a direct result of drinking at home. If one has a lonely person who can get 24 pints of say Guinness for a little more that a £ a pint in a supermarket he is far more liable to drink to excess in lonely isolation at home than if he goes to the pub, where he will pay £4.00 a pint and is thus less likely to grossly over indulge, and as Brian undeneath so eloquently points out is liable to derive at least some theurputic benefit from his interaction with other punters.