With a 30-year career in the Metropolitan Police – 25 years of which were spent frontline policing in London – Peter Conisbee understands not only the capital’s nocturnal scene, but also its complicated legal facets. During his last few years in the force, Peter was a police licensing officer in a North London borough, assisting pubs, clubs, off licenses, restaurants and other alcohol-serving establishments with licensing issues. Infuriated at the poor quality of the existing advisory services, he decided to retrain, becoming a qualified paralegal in licensing law and opening the doors of PC Licensing in 2017.
Peter now provides advice and guidance in all areas of alcohol licensing, from initial license applications to crime prevention at venues, compliance checks and mediation. Acknowledging that each venue is unique and requires different forms of support, he puts together bespoke services to protect their livelihoods, their customers and their employees from common threats. We spoke to Peter about the licensing industry, the applications process, risk and incident management and his long-standing history in the field.
What is a premises license and when does a business need one?
A premises licence – or a club premises certificate – is a licence that authorises a business to sell alcohol and provide hot food and drinks between the hours of 11pm and 5am. It also concerns certain types of regulated entertainment, such as theatre productions, film screenings, live music and club events.
Can you talk us through the process for gaining a premises license?
The law surrounding premises licenses is tightly regulated by the Licensing Act 2003. Applicants have to first satisfy the eligibility criteria, and thereafter must submit an application form to prove that they are aware of and will promote the four licensing objectives: the prevention of crime and disorder, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and the protection of children from harm. They also need to provide a floor plan of the premises that they wish to licence.
The application must be advertised both at the venue and in the local press. There is then a 28-day consultation period during which people can make representations to support, or object to, the application. If there are no objections by the end of the 28 day period, the licence is granted. If there are objections, a hearing will take place in front of the local licensing committee who will decide the outcome at the end of the meeting. All sides are encouraged to be present.
What are the most common challenges clients face during the application process?
The biggest challenge for clients is knowing how to satisfy the four licensing objectives, and what procedures need to be adopted in order to do this. Every application is different, however, depending on the size and type of venue in relation to its geography and any local concerns. Venues closing at different times in different areas will attract completely different opinions from neighbours and authorities.
At PC Licensing, we always aim to get our applications approved the first time around without the requirement for a committee hearing. This entails liaisons with the authorities and police, alongside a consideration for neighbours. All of these elements are of paramount importance, and relationship building on behalf of the client is my speciality. This is an endeavour that I believe saves them both time and money.
What steps should a licensed business take if a serious incident happens on their premises?
The premises should always prioritise the victim, particularly their first aid and emergency treatment. Thereafter, it is about securing the evidence without compromising safety. If somebody has been seriously assaulted, for example, it’s important to keep the area as sterile as possible. Cordon it off by using chairs or tables; anything that could prevent people from disturbing the scene.
Whatever unsightly mess it is in, leave it until the police arrive and allow them to make the decisions. I’ve seen many venues understandably clearing up glass, blood and debris from an incident, and not realising that they are destroying evidence that could assist in catching the suspect. This knowledge has come from spending the vast majority of my adult life in frontline policing.
What measures can you take to help minimise risks?
Risk prevention measures vary depending on the type of venue and its location. Being able to lock away stock and having shutters over valuable items or windows at night can minimise risk. CCTV cameras and security lighting need to be positioned considerately for each venue, and alarm systems also need to be bespoke.
Staff must know how to deal with certain situations and individuals in order to protect themselves, customers and the venue. With a brief survey, I can identify any weak areas of a venue and offer a solution. Having attended hundreds of crime scenes, I feel that I know certain mindsets well enough to know how to minimise the risks.
Obtaining a licence for a premises can be an exceptionally costly exercise. How do you ensure that businesses get value for money?
It can be costly if you don’t know what you’re doing or are ill-informed about the process. Beyond the fees you’re legally required to pay, the only other expense is that of a licensing expert to guide you through the procedure. A business – and its customers – must come first, and the service that I offer encompasses that of a number of specialists rolled into one:
- Preparing the venue and catering for its safety, with crime prevention measures.
- Liaising with the client and authorities before the application is submitted, so that businesses know the requirements and potential pitfalls and can prepare for them rather than going in blindly.
- Plan drawing services to minimise expenses.
- 24-hour availability to clients; this is of such high importance but is often overlooked. If they have a nagging concern, I don’t want my clients to wait and stress over it. I want them to email, text or call me, safe in the knowledge that they will get a speedy reply.
How do clients benefit from your combined experience as both a retired Metropolitan Police officer and qualified paralegal?
Many applications are objected to because of a lack of consideration for the licensing objectives and how to adequately deal with them. In my role as a police licensing officer, I worked alongside the council licensing team in one of the busiest boroughs in London in terms of licensed venues. We were stringent yet fair, and because of this experience I know what is required in a range of application types. A huge part of a police officer’s role is negotiation, mediation and problem-solving. I spent over 30 years doing just that; exactly what is required to get applications across the line.
I wasn’t satisfied with just having the BIIAB Level 2 Award for Licensing Practitioners, so I undertook a legal qualification to formalise my knowledge and provide assurance to my clients. Hence I have qualified as a paralegal in licensing law, and I am therefore a member of both the Institute of Paralegals and the Institute of Licensing.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Quality of service has been high on my agenda and central to my ethos throughout my entire career; it infuriates me to see people paying good money for a poor service. My clients know that they get exceptional value for money, and in terms of applying for licences they effectively get three separate services for the price of one.
I am also a broker for a business energy company which complements my consultancy perfectly, especially with clients taking on new properties. It is, and will always be, about saving money for clients and giving them the very best service. I want my clients to have more than just a service they are happy with; I aim to provide them with a service and commitment that surpasses their expectations each and every time.
PC Licensing has been named Licensing Consultancy Agency of the Year by the Cambridge Prestige judging panel. For more information on their licensing support and crime management, visit www.pclicensing.co.uk.