Our licensing laws need to be more flexible to allow smaller premises to compete…

Recently I stumbled across a liquor license for sale in the Coleraine area. It costs £80 000.

Yes.

£80 000.

Good for the person selling it but what is the bigger picture and how does this affect our pub tradition?

First of all, what size of premises would be required to have the turnover to pay off the £80k loan for such a licence?

I’m sure many of us have entertained the notion of semi-retiring to a country pub someday (blissfully ignorant of the work involved in such an enterprise).

Were we to do such a thing, would a thatched cottage-cum-bar be able to generate such a turnover?

Unlikely, it would need to have a full complement of food and accommodation options to make it work which means it’s no longer a small thatched-cottage-cum-bar, it’s a compact hotel.

Therefore, large premises are required and with it extra cost, much of which is passed onto the customers.

And for those publicans who own large traditional pubs in the countryside, it must be a constant temptation to sell off the licence and sell the large building area to developers for townhouses to be squeezed into its former place of standing.

“less of these?”

In this scenario a village loses part of its economy and community and perhaps part of its architectural heritage.

“more of these?”

On the plus side the prohibitive license cost keeps the British chain pubs at bay; nearly every town in Britain has an identikit parade of Yates’, Edwards, All Bar One, Brewer’s Fayre, It’s a Scream, Revolution and Wetherspoons (yes, we have them too but by comparison there are as many Wetherspoons in the Glasgow area than there are in the whole of Northern Ireland).

A mixed blessing then?

However, is there any reason why we can’t have the best of both worlds? A scenario where we can protect our smaller pubs and traditional pubs without opening the door to the chain pub monsters?

Is there any merit in a capacity-based pricing system for pub licences?

For example, a £5k licence for a 50 person capacity pub, £10k for 100 people, £15k for 150 people etc up to £70k for larger establishments with as many people as the fire brigade are prepared to sign-off on?

The smaller licence fees would encourage people to open or take over smaller pubs but at the same time would deter the chain pubs as they (I believe) have very thin profit margins with their high staffing levels and low prices.

This would hopefully encourage a diversification of pubs the bigger towns (how many times have you stumbled into a cosy, tiny bar abroad wishing that we had something similar in NI?) and make it easier to open a smaller pub in the countryside to arrest the husking-out of our villages (many of which are just dorms now for the larger towns).

Smaller hotels would also benefit from such a scheme, in some cases a small bar would be the cherry on top for smaller hotels.

“more of these too?”

It would also facilitate our micro-brewery scene.

Down south they have introduced licences that permit these breweries to flog their wares on site, the same can not be said for our own breweries up here and this hands them a disadvantage in a very competitive market. In a region where the economy is rather slow, it’s surely fair to say that any help that can be given to businesses should be wholeheartedly encouraged?

“…and of these?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love many of the pubs that we have, especially in Belfast but the current set up is strangling originality and opportunity.

Thoughts?

Post by Amm Ghobsmacht

This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.