Proposed changes to the government’s Policing and Crime Bill risk imposing a “significant financial burden” on night-time business, industry bodies have warned.
Amendments which are due to be debated by a House of Lords Committee would allow for a late-night levy to be restricted geographically, enable Police and Crime Commissioners to request a levy consultation, put Cumulative Impact Policies (CIPSs) on a statutory footing and require local authorities to publish information on how levy-raised funds are spent.
The ALMR - the Alliance for Licensed Multiple Retailers - has warned these changes could make it much easier for councils to introduce a late night levy and “significantly extend the tax on businesses”.
The concerns were echoed by the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA), which urged careful consideration of how the changes could affect a vibrant night-time economy
ALMR chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “These amendments shift the legislation further away from the Government’s stance in its original guidance; that the late-night levy should only be a last-resort, when other options have been exhausted. These new measures would introduce a degree of transparency, but this sort of punitive measure could quickly become the first port of call for local authorities.
“Allowing the levy to be restricted geographically and giving PCCs the power to request a consultation could potentially make it much easier for a council to introduce a levy. The ALMR has consistently opposed the introduction of a blanket tax on businesses and we continue to urge councils to explore partnership schemes before considering the levy.
“The levy may not have the intended effect of addressing any alcohol-related concerns but will impose a significant financial burden on pubs and bars and restrict investment and growth.
“These amendments – like the CIPs in 2004 - have been introduced at the 11th hour, with no detailed public consultation. They could significantly extend the tax on businesses, and ignore the principle that regulators should have regard to economic growth.
“CIPs have succeeded only in adulterating the planning process and ignore the context of licence applications. All CIPs over a decade old need to be reviewed to ensure they are still valid. The Government has missed an opportunity to amend legislation of CIPs to ensure they remain suitable and relevant.
“We need a clear legal commitment that the levy will only be pursued as a matter of last resort and that councils will support local businesses, have regard to growth and act impartially and fairly. We are disappointed that the Government has missed an opportunity to make the legislation fit for purpose by introducing evidence and hearing requirements that will support growth in their areas.”
BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds added: “This will make it easier for local authorities to impose a Late Night Levy – something the BBPA has always been against, as it is a tax and not a local partnership.
“We are against the flexibility that is being proposed, which would allow local authorities to impose this tax on particular geographic areas, rather than the whole local authority.
“Local authorities need to think carefully about how a Late Night Levy could affect a vibrant night-time economy and whether partnership with local businesses, such as through a Business Improvement District, would not be better for both residents and local businesses.
“Widening the tax to late-night refreshment is to be welcomed, but since it is based on rateable value, the on-trade is likely to bear the greatest burden. We welcome the requirement for local authorities to publish data on how it is spent.
“The changes to Cumulative Impact Policies to put them on a Statutory footing should only be justified by evidence, and it is important that each application for a new licence, or variation of a licence, is considered on its own merit.
“We welcome the frequent review of policies based on evidence, and particularly where crime and disorder are decreasing, but it is important to note that CIPs were originally devised as a temporary policy whilst the underlying causes of any local issues were addressed – and they should be considered in this context.”
The clauses amending the Late Night Levy have been tabled in Parliament, for introduction to the Policing & Crime Bill at Lords Committee Stage.
The alcohol clauses are thought likely to be debated in mid to late October, but the date has yet to be decided.
The Government committed in its Modern Crime Prevention Strategy make the Levy more flexible and to introduce a greater role for Police and Crime Commissioners by giving them a right to request that licensing authorities consult on introducing a levy.
The amendments will allow licensing authorities to target specific geographical locations (rather than, as now, the whole of the local authority area); extend the levy to include late night refreshment outlets (with the exception of premises which sell hot drinks only); enable Police and Crime Commissioners to request the licensing authority to consult on introducing a levy; and require licensing authorities to publish information about how funds raised by the levy are spent so that those paying it are clearer about how it is being used.
The policy will also put Cumulative Impact Policies (CIPs) on a statutory footing. The new clauses set out what steps a licensing authority will be required to take before publishing a cumulative impact assessment.