20 January 2012
Here is the PDF version of briefing below:
Local Government (Review of Decisions) Bill (PDF, 3 pages, 35.3KB)
What the bill is trying to do
Under the bill as amended, councils will be required to provide written reasons for rejecting event applications within one working day of the decision being made, when the rejection is on grounds of health and safety. The applicant can then request the authority review its decision. It must do so within two weeks. The authority must then issue a written statement of its position. Applicants may also appeal the review decision.
If the authority bans the event on the grounds of health and safety, then the applicant can appeal directly to a local commissioner or the ombudsman.
The LGA acknowledges that amendments at the review stage have reduced the potential burden of the bill, butdoes not believe thatthey have addressed the fundamental issue that introducing additional legislation andbureaucracyis not necessary. The proposals stand tocause confusion with existing appeals processesand will create anextra financial burdenon councilswithout achieving better outcomes for applicants.
Councils are aware of the suggestion, sometimes made, that they can on occasion take health and safety concerns too far. Unfortunately, by taking a less cautious approach, councils can open themselves up to spurious claims that can end up costing the tax payer significant sums. This is a particular problem which we would welcome Government assistance with addressing.
In terms of this bill, the LGA and its member councils are keen towork with the Government on a common sense approach. Councils work with partners to ensure that event applications can wherever possible be approved, and our concern is that hasty legislationwhich isnot thought through properly will create more problems than it solves for both local government and those seeking to put on temporary events.
Government is supporting the billon the basis thatit imposes no extra financial burden on councils. This is not the case, as we outline below, along with other considerations that Members of Parliament should be aware of:
- Councils have a strong track record of working in partnership with communities to run successful events that can be enjoyed by all and which deliver substantial benefits for local areas. The licensing process fosters successful working relationships and helps deliver safe events that can promote a local area.
- Councils work closely with applicants to ensure events can take place if safe and practical to do so. Imposing a two week deadline for reviewcreates a confrontational situation and limits the ability of the council to discuss alternative approaches to running the event, enabling it to go forward.
- The Licensing Act 2003 requires councils to always provide a reason for rejecting the application.
- There are a variety of options available for event organisers to question decisions to reject a licence. Initially an organiser would raise the issue with the relevant service manager. The Licensing Act 2003 and Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 then provide for an appeal to a magistrate against rejections. This appeal must be lodged within 21 days of receiving the rejection notice.
- Event organisers can also use local corporate complaints procedures or local politicians and have the right to a judicial review. All of these existing appeal processes apply to any aspect of the licensing process, rather than focussing on just health and safety matters.
- Giving applicants the right to appeal the outcome of a review of the original decision creates a potentially continuous cycle of reviews with no final decision ever being reached. Aside from the obvious cost implications, the LGA is aware of a number of instances where applicants have used this approach to deliberately delay decisions against them. The default position of existing regulation allows premises to continue to trade during the appeals process, meaning councils are unable to effectively protect customers and residents from high risk trading.
- The bill proposes extending the review process to involve the local government ombudsman. The existing appeal process takes just over 21 days from the convening of the initial licensing panel, to securing an independent review of the decision by a magistrate. Introducing a role for the local government ombudsman would increase the duration of the review process as well as the costs involved for the authority.
- The bill does not remove the right to appeal to a magistrate. The licensing authority could thus face both ombudsman and magistrate and receive different decisions from them. If the ombudsman were to replace the magistrate fully, then there would be no power to force the authority to grant the licence.
- A standard Licensing Panel hearing costs between Â£1,500 and Â£2,500 dependent on who is required to attend. Requiring councils to review the decision will double the overall cost of the licensing process, making it more expensive for everyone to apply for event licences.
- A legal presence, as is likely where the ombudsman could be involved, would further increase costs. Adding an additional stage, or stages, to the process imposes extra costs on councils at a time of scarcity of resources, in terms of both financial and manpower.
- The existing rights to review by a magistrate or a judicial review, alongside corporate complaints procedures and accountable local politicians, provide access to timely redress without imposing extra costs on councils.
Public Affairs and Campaigns Adviser
Telephone: 0207 664 3110