Cornwall calls for licensing reform

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Matt Silver (l) and Geoff Brown
Reducing the regulatory burden: Matt Silver (left) and Geoff Brown

Cornwall is spearheading reform of the UK’s outdated licensing laws following a year-long project looking at how to stop businesses and local councils getting bogged down in paperwork.

Cornwall Council has submitted a report to the Government outlining a new, simpler approach to help businesses get licences quickly and easily, saving time and money.

Businesses often need several licences, many that need renewing annually, and the council deals with 94 different types of licence permissions resulting in 15,000 applications every year, administered by 12 different teams.

The Council’s report was drawn up following consultation with Cornish businesses who said they found licensing “complicated, confusing and burdensome”. One publican said he had to consult three different departments just to put tables and chairs outside.

The research also showed businesses find licensing application forms badly designed and difficult to understand. Up to 90% of some licence applications are incomplete and the Council’s licensing teams have reported that applicants sometimes go to them up to eight times for help in completing a single form.

The Council’s recommendations follow a successful bid last year to the Government’s Better Regulation Delivery Office. This was to carry out research into how the system can be improved under current legislation, and what would need to happen as part of a much bigger overhaul of licensing across the country, which the Government would like to see in place by 2018.

The suggested reforms include businesses being able to apply once for all the licences they need, licences ‘for life’, flexible payment options, consolidation of licensing law in the leisure, entertainment and hospitality sector and simplifying licensing application consultation and appeals procedures.

Geoff Brown, Cornwall Council’s cabinet member for communities, said: “I am delighted that Cornwall is leading the way nationally on this vital reform, which will hopefully create a greatly simplified application process for customers in a highly cost effective and time saving manner.”

While the Government considers the report, the Council is already pressing ahead with some of its own reforms through an initiative called Better Business for All.

Driven locally by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), this involves the businesses community working with local regulators to save businesses time and money by simplifying regulation.

In the New Year, businesses in Cornwall will be able to access advice and support through a new hub drawing together different licensing teams and a number of other regulatory services within the Council.

Matt Silver, the LEP’s business and stakeholder relationship manager, said: “Reducing the regulatory burden on businesses is a priority for us and we applaud Cornwall Council’s regulatory services for really grasping the nettle and wanting to do something about it.

“This report shows just how complicated and time-consuming the current licensing system is so we welcome the opportunity for Cornwall to lead the way nationally and locally to help businesses save time and money.”

Better Business for All is being managed by a steering group which includes small and large regulated businesses in Cornwall, the Federation of Small Businesses, Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, the LEP and officers from a cross section of Cornwall Council’s regulatory services.