How the new Licensing Act has churches by the throat

by
02 November 2006

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From Mr Peter Charlesworth
Sir, — Who cares about the shires? Not this Government.

Our pensioners are given bus passes for almost non-existent buses. Our council-tax increases way beyond inflation because of underfunding. The viability of our local shops is threatened by the out-of-town megastores. The post office is under threat of closure. The new licensing procedure for the sale of alcohol forces the prices up by between 60p and £1 a bottle to remain profitable.

The real difficulty for all communities, whether in a market town or in a village, is the Licensing Act 2003. The publicity about this Act has been confined to inner-city pubs and commercial clubs. The reality is that it will create enormous difficulty for every hall, whether it be church, parish, community, or village. Do people know of these difficulties? Do they realise that every Scout Gang Show, school nativity play, old people’s bingo session, church fête with a band, will require an entertainments licence? Every dance, harvest supper, BBQ, fair where alcohol is a prize, will require a liquor licence?

The licences are expensive, and the bureaucracy is unbelievably complicated. Two routes are available. One, where only 12 events are allowed each year, each requiring a £21 licence plus the cost of advertising in the local press (an invitation to unwanted guests); or a full licence, at a cost of up to £300, plus the appointment of a volunteer premises supervisor, who must be trained at a cost of up to £300 and be legally responsible for, and available to attend, every event that takes place in the hall. Who will volunteer for this task?

All these things threaten the cohesion of life in the shires. They could be eased by special rules for shops below a certain rateable value, and halls that currently enjoy charitable status.

Where is the voice of the Church speaking about these things? At the moment there is a deafening silence. Inner cities have great problems of social deprivation, but soon the shires will suffer their own social problems unless their place in the structure of the country is recognised.

The Church is ideally placed to be this voice. Then perhaps it will start to be of relevance to the man in the street once more.
PETER CHARLESWORTH
(Reader Emeritus)
5, Babylon Lane, Bishampton, Pershore, Worcs WR10 2NN

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