There seems little appetite from local authorities for the power to set licensing fees locally “with all the administration and probable hassle this would bring”, according to views expressed at the first of four dedicated Home Office-hosted roadshows.
Reporting back from the roadshow, which took place earlier this week in Manchester and included introductory presentations and then ‘break out’ sessions on various aspects of the consultation, John Gaunt, of John Gaunt Solicitors, said: “What was remarkable was an apparent general unanimity of views across the spectrum in that: On the part of local authorities, there seems little appetite for the power to set fees locally with all the administration and probable hassle this would bring. The existing system – whilst not perfect – lends certainty and that any proportionate (and reasonable) fee increase should be nationally set on the existing rateable value basis.
“If this was not politically possible, then local fees should be set against rateable values again for such (relative) certainty, and that variables to increase fees particularly where the premises are ‘primarily used for drinking’ should not be adopted by reason of difficulty of interpretation.
“That the proposed caps were ineffective as apart possibly from London authorities in most cases they were set far too high (but with some exceptions) and there was a real risk that councils, despite every encouragement otherwise, would look to benchmark fees up to the cap, and not in fact based on a detailed cost recovery exercise.
“Councils expressed considerable nervousness about the calculation of costs recovery and the real risk of challenge. On single annual payment date, there was almost unanimous agreement (again) in that no one wanted a single payment date (to my slight surprise).”
The roadshow considered various aspects of the consultation including: the options available for locally setting fees; the proposed caps on fees– amount, adequacy in terms of costs recovery; transparency on the setting of fees by local councils and the possibility of a single annual fee payment date.