Government reveals disorder zone flaws

By Peter Coulson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Alcohol disorder zones Licensed trade Concept Violent crime reduction act 2006 Commerce Government

As one of its final "thumbs down" to the reputation of the licensed trade, this Government has at last unveiled its deeply flawed concept of Alcohol Disorder Zones (ADZs).

As one of its final "thumbs down" to the reputation of the licensed trade, this Government has at last unveiled its deeply flawed concept of Alcohol Disorder Zones (ADZs).

Contrary to press reports, they will not come in immediately in January. That is when the process is planned to start, unless some more enlightened members of the Commons or Lords look at the explanatory notes and decide that it is an unworkable and unfair measure, designed for one unworthy purpose only - the imposition of an extra tax on an illdefined section of the retail trade.

The statutory instrument bringing into effect the relevant sections of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 requires the affirmative approval of both Houses. This may yet lead to lively debates about the merits of condemning an area as currently un-policeable, but suggesting that if you throw someone else's money at the problem it will suddenly turn out OK.

For the main and only purpose of an ADZ is financial. The Act contains no other provisions designed to improve the situation in inner cities. Police and local authorities will use existing powers and sanctions. The zone will be designated for the sole reason of raising additional funds for so-called "extra" services to the licensed trade.

However, when one looks at these additional services, they are not for the trade at all. Unlike refuse collection, or hospitals, or street cleaning, they are not actual services given to those who pay for them. They are services to keep law and order on the streets during certain parts of the late evening, and to pay for additional test-purchasing to catch out those selling to underage people.

But it is essential for the Government to claim that the proposed charges are a payment for services, because otherwise it might be ruled illegal. So the notes talk of "invoices" being issued to those licensed premises within the area that are not exempt.

Failure to pay will not, as most other local council taxes do, result in a civil action for debt. They provide a compelling and ultimately irresistible penalty - if you do not pay, you have your licence suspended until you do.

The concept is also - probably deliberately - divisive within the trade itself. Some establishments will be exempt. Some will be able to escape the charge by amending their opening times. The decision on exemption or remission will be one for the local council to make.

Social clubs are included but may persuade the council to remit the charge. Pubs in one street will pay, and in the next will not, even if there is sometimes trouble there. There is already a huge debate about what will be paid for, over and above what might be considered "normal" policing. The figures that have been bandied about suggest a top rate of about £100 per week during the period the zone is in effect, but as yet no one has put together a complete and accurate financial forecast.

As with many Government estimates (look at licensing transition, for example), these appear at this stage to be pure fantasy, geared to look good on the page but having no basis in reality.

I have been around in this trade for a long time, but I have yet to encounter an idea as half-baked and half-brained as this. The estimate is that 30 local authorities will take up the challenge in the first year. Well, good luck to them.

There are so many holes in the plan, with so much opportunity for challenge, that I think it unlikely that more than a dozen will make the attempt, and half of those will fail.This idea is unworkable for the councils, for the police and for the licensed trade. Leave it alone.

Related topics Legislation

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