Apathy among the trade towards late-night levies is a big concern and a significant factor in local authorities bringing in the tax, according to a leading licensing lawyer.
Poppleston Allen partner Clare Eames said local authorities have “scant regard” for the impact of late-night levies on operators, and an increasing number of people in the trade must respond to levy consultations or risk seeing a rise in the number of councils implementing the tax.
Speaking at the annual Poppleston Allen seminar in London yesterday, Eames, who was present at Islington Council’s hearing on a late-night levy last week, said the authority decided to introduce the tax after a “30 minute debate” and councillors “relied heavily” on the fact that 67% of the responses to the consultation were in favour of the proposal.
“It’s fair to say it was a bit of slam dunk,” she said. “But it’s worth noting that out of the 450 affected licensed premises, only 66 actually responded. You have to think here apathy is the danger. Had 450 people said they didn’t want it, then the Labour councillors who unanimously voted to introduce the levy would not have had such a strong position.”
She cited quotations from councillor Paul Convery, Islington Council’s executive member for community safety, who approved the levy. In an official response from the council he said: “Late-night places that don’t want to pay can simply close at midnight.”
“That to me just demonstrates the lack of understanding,” Eames continued.
“Having been to a few of these hearings myself, it is quite a sobering picture because what’s completely clear is the local authorities have scant regard for what’s happening for the operators.
“Given that we’re now in a situation where a lot of London authorities I think will follow suit, the key thing is for the trade to rally together and make sure the numbers of those responses against the levy go up.”
She added that Poppleston Allen lawyers phoned the remaining London boroughs over the past 48 hours to see whether other councils in the capital will follow suit, but none have confirmed they will.
“I still believe it is going to be a watershed because Islington has shown it is actually quite easy to introduce one of these things, but as it stands at the moment none of the licensing authorities are putting their head above the parapet to say they will introduce it,” she said.
Nigel Connor, head of legal at JD Wetherspoon, also speaking at the event, said: “The number of operators who responded in Islington was shocking. We need to join together and respond to these things.
“Certainly in Milton Keynes, where they rejected the late night levy, the voice of the industry and operators was very much in the mind of councillors.”
Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers strategic affairs director Kate Nicholls said trade bodies have saved operators around £15m by preventing late night levy and early morning restriction order proposals early.
The City of London has launched a new late-night levy consultation after the initial consultation that ended on 6 September 2013 was criticised. The revised consultation will provide additional information and request that new responses be submitted. It will close on 8 April 2014.