Two retailers trading in Norfolk have been utterly incensed to have their licensing applications rejected after getting local authorities blessing in the first place and getting the paperwork in on time. Nicola List rang to say that her partners application had been checked in front of them by a helpful council worker and that the couple had then gone happily off on holiday.

"We got back from Ireland and found an envelope waiting with forms saying we hadn't done it right." says Nicola. "My partner has now lost his 'grandfather' rights and has to apply from scratch." She adds that when they went down to North Norfolk Council to complain they met a brick wall which stonily informed them that they had consulted the wrong person in the first place and that that person had since left. I wonder whose fault that is then?

Irene Stewart Hughes, who runs Meadow Stores in King’s Lynn, also had all the right boxes ticked and approved by the council’s licensing adviser who has also since left the council’s employ. Irene’s problem stemmed from not receiving the information pack that West Norfolk Borough Council says it sent out to all licensed premises. So she took the initiative herself and downloaded a form from the internet. Trouble was the form was for a premises licence only, so she was unaware that she also needed to obtain a personal licence. The licensing adviser did not inform her of this when they went through the application together. West Norfolk’s defence is that, although a premises licence has to be acquired through the local authority in which the store trades, the personal licence has to be applied for through the local authority in which the would-be licence holder resides. So the licensing adviser might have assumed that Irene would be applying elsewhere for her personal licence. The council’s other excuse was that it had to process 800 applications in one fell swoop, so there wasn’t time to cross-reference premises and personal licensees. Irene has also been told that she will have to resit the exams and reapply from scratch. She is unwilling to take this lying down. She has already written to the principal environmental health officer in charge of H&S and licensing, and to her MP, and to the licensing minister, James Purnell. Once again I have to say, it’s not beyond a local authority’s power to bend the rules, to make exceptions, to judge each case on its merits. These two retailers tried to do it right. They should not be penalised in this way. Jobsworths would appear to rule on some of Norfolk’s councils.