New licensing minister James Purnell has defended the new alcohol licensing regime and ruled out any change in the timetable for its imposition in England and Wales.

The closing date for applications to convert current licences to new ones under grandfather rights will stay at August 6 despite lobbyists’ attempts to have it put back. The official launch of the new regime will also go ahead as planned, with a likely start date in November, the minister confirmed.

He told C-Store: “If retailers think they can delay their applications then I’m afraid they are wrong. They need to apply well before the deadline - to leave it until the last minute might be dangerous.”

Purnell defended the new application system, saying it is “not all that complicated”. He said: “To convert an existing licence is not a terribly difficult process. It might be that you already have a suitable floor plan in your possession, and there is help available on our website ( or by contacting your local authority.”

He continued: “We’ve gone from a system where you had to make repeated applications and there were six authorities involved, to one where you have to fill in one form. It may seem like a burden to retailers now, but in the long term it will be less.”

The minister also defended the cost levels, pointing out that the old magistrates system was effectively subsidised by the taxpayer, and that was no longer appropriate in the current climate. He said: “There is a social cost to the widespread sale of alcohol, and it is only right that this should be reflected in the licence cost.”

An independent panel chaired by Sir Leslie Elton has been set up to ensure that fee levels are set at the right level and to ensure that best practice is being implemented across all local authorities. Purnell maintained that local authorities are adopting a more uniform and commonsense approach to the implementation of the new regime. He said: “There have been a number of meetings between local authorities and the drinks industry, and where an authority previously had an inflexible approach they have been able to adopt best practice.”
The minister also confirmed that all local authorities have been instructed that personal licence holders do not need to be on the premises at all times, as long as the store is properly managed.

He said: “Shop managers are perfectly free to leave the store. They should be accountable for how the store is run but need not be there all the time. We want to work hand in hand with the trade to build a culture where retailers refuse to serve people who are underage or who are drunk. We want to get the message across that alcohol is a great pleasure when consumed responsibly, but that it shouldn’t go over the edge and lead to violence.”