Employee fines: On the house

Christine Milburn, communications manager, British Beer & Pub Association

From an industry point of view the change is to do with how the penalties are enforced. It has always been an offence to serve alcohol to drunk and underage drinkers, and that has now been extended to include fines.

The government’s main priority in doing this is to try and tackle the issue of alcohol misuse. However, it’s difficult to answer whether this is capable of doing that.

In many ways it comes down to the powers the police have, as they are not changing. They are simply going to be applied in a different way. And alongside that, the industry has to do everything it can to operate responsibly.

We had major enforcement campaigns last summer and at Christmas where we found only 1% of 25,000 pubs were actually breaking the law. This was for a range of offences, and is very good compared to other sectors. We still want to get rid of any pubs that aren’t operating responsibly.

The industry has to make sure publicans are aware of their duty to the public, the law and their staff, and that everyone working within the industry knows what the law is.

This can only be done through training and information programmes, although we also need the police to use their powers to tackle problem pubs. That will send a clear message to rogue publicans that we aren’t going to allow them to get away with it.

At the end of the day customers want to go out and have an enjoyable evening and to do that, they need to know the pub is operating within the law.

Cathy Smith, director of the BIIAB, a qualifications awarding body associated with the British Institute of Innkeepers

We run a national qualification called The Barperson’s National Certificate and we are restructuring it to meet the needs of the new licensing act. It will now be called the Award in Responsible Alcohol Retailing.

This will incorporate issues to do with licensing law itself, like the refusal of sale to under-18s and to somebody who is already drunk. It is about trying to give more tools to people within the industry and much of it is based around conflict management and how you deal with people who are annoyed because you won’t serve them.

There are trigger words that can make people become aggressive and if you avoid them, people are less likely to cause you problems. It’s basically about how not to exacerbate the situation, for example by saying something like: “Would you prefer something else?”

We feel this is an issue that goes right to the heart for the need for more training within the industry. The industry must train staff to realise it is part of their job to know the law. If people are trained, they have the confidence to uphold the law. It’s time for the industry to say we have an obligation to provide this for them.

If somebody knowingly breaks the law, they deserve to be punished. So I haven’t got a problem with the fines. But it’s up to the employer to make sure that the member of staff knows what they can and can’t do. Plus, it’s also likely to extra benefits for the simple fact that the more you invest in a member of staff, the more loyalty they have to you and the industry.”

Mark Jones, chief executive officer, Yates Group

The only problem is that the fine is lower for the buyer than the person selling it. The buyer’s action is premeditated, whereas the person selling the drink might have made an innocent mistake.

As far as intoxicated people go, we’ve got good management, team members and door staff who handle this on the ground. The underage thing is a bit more complicated as there’s always been a natural reticence to not question people. But we’re encouraging people to bring ID and are supporting a couple of national schemes like the Pass scheme, run by the Portman Group.

Our main problem is training and retraining, because our industry is renowned for having a high staff turnover. We’ve done a lot to reduce it and it’s fallen by 60% in two years, but we still have a massive staff turnover and you can’t simply train people once a year. You have to constantly update new recruits.

I don’t want young people’s careers to be blighted by one lapse of judgment, so I think you have to be open-minded about this. If a new employee has a lapse of judgment that’s a lot different to a long-serving member of staff getting it wrong.

Michael Soderquest, training manager, Scottish & Newcastle Pub Enterprises

It has been illegal to serve an intoxicated person for decades. But the whole thing has been hijacked by binge drinking and that has highlighted how the industry polices itself.

For at least five years we have been providing a pack for licensees to train staff about their responsibilities.

It is basically a self-learning pack, backed up with a quiz to test the level staff have reached. It also provides evidence that they’ve trained and reached a certain degree of competence.

This will have to be beefed up to make people fully aware of what they can and cannot do. It will also include more on social responsibility, such as what a unit of drink represents and what the penalties of serving those underage will be.

Part of this is simply to make sure everyone from the license downwards knows their responsibilities. It is also about treating alcohol seriously, as cheap drinks and drinking games are frowned upon – but anyone sensible in this business does not condone that.

At the same time, it is about creating a safer environment to work in. The industry has a responsibility to keep staff safe and it is pretty obvious that if you have a group of teenagers getting drunk there’s more chance of trouble.

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