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Shortfalls in the proposed legal budget will make next year’s overhaul of the UK’s licensing system unworkable, the Government has been told.
Local authorities have written to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), which is responsible for licensing, complaining there is a shortfall in the proposed level of funding to cover lawyers’ fees once the Licensing Act 2003 comes into force next February. The act will shift responsibility for the licensing system from magistrates’ courts to local authorities, which as a result will experience a sharp incline in workload.
Central government sets the fee rates to be paid by licensees when they apply to local authorities for changes to their licences. Westminster’s licensing officer Philip Doyle said: “The fee structure would not enable us to make a full cost recovery. This particularly [applies to] legal costs.”
Doyle, who co-wrote Westminster Council’s response to the DCMS licensing consultation paper, added that the lack of funding also applied to enforcement, environment, planning and social services departments.
Legal departments as well as other local authority departments will be responsible for handling some 330,000 licence applications within the first nine months of the act’s implementation. These will come from licensees who are required to register with the new scheme. Thousands of other applications are expected from traders seeking to vary their existing licences.
Lawyers will also deal with potentially thousands of appeals and judicial reviews from companies and individuals who have been denied new licences or changes to their existing ones.
A DCMS spokesman said: “We’ve worked hard with local authorities to show that we’ve set fees at appropriate levels and we have some time to go to get it sorted out.”
Philip Kolvin, a licensing specialist at 2-3 Gray’s Inn Square, said: “There are a very large number of legal issues and many think we will have to spend a lot of time in the High Court.”