Drinks retailers in England and Wales could find themselves picking up an unexpected £1.4m bill next year - due to a cock-up by the government.

A new regime for premise and personal licences comes into force some time in 2004.

But retailers had expected that the premise licences they are due to renew in February under the current regime would be extended until the new rules come into effect.

Now they face the prospect of paying the £30 premise licence fee in February and then paying again for what is effectively the same thing later in the year.

With thousands of retailers each paying £30 next February, the total bill for the industry
could come to £1.4m - which doesn’t include the time spent dealing with yet more unwanted red tape.

That prospect has left retailers hopping mad. David Rae, chief executive of the Association of Convenience Stores, has urged the minister for sport and tourism Richard Caborn to reconsider and has also asked the Better Regulation Task Force to intervene. Rae said: “There is still an opportunity for the government to exercise common sense on this issue.”

Spar UK retail development controller Barry Wallis said: “We have not been informed of the exact timetable for the changeover and the prospect of retailers being forced to apply twice for licences in such a short period adds to the confusion.”

Licensing expert Peter Coulson said constant changes to the schedule were causing the confusion.

“Reapplication for licences under the new system may be postponed until September 2004, because guidelines may not come out until this November,” he said.
Rod Addy