Home Office minister James Brokenshire says the Government plans to be flexible when applying discounts for the late-night levy — and promised that responsible pubs won't be penalised.
It gives hope to those running late-night venues that take part in schemes such as pubwatch, Best Bar None and business improvement districts.
Speaking at the Responsible Drinks Retailing (RDR) Conference, organised by the Morning Advertiser and Off Licence News, Brokenshire praised the "very effective" partnership schemes as "an example of what this Government wants from the 'Big Society'."
He singled out local pubwatches, Best Bar None, Community Alcohol Partnerships, the Proof of Age Standards Scheme, Challenge 25, business improvement districts and Purple Flag — and called for "more take up" of such projects.
When pressed by Kurnia boss Michael Kheng into whether the Government had defined which venues would be exempt from payment under the late-night levy, Brokenshire responded: "You can rest assured that I understand there needs to be flexibility, as I indicated with the relevant schemes I know operate up and down the country."
The minister said it's "not my intention to be prescriptive" around the charge and promised a "sufficiently flexible regime to reflect that there is a different approach in different communities".
"I'm committed to ensuring that local authorities have the discretion to manage the late-night levy in such a way that responsible premises are not penalised."
His comments follow a series of meetings between Brokenshire and trade leaders, who urged the minister to ensure that well-run pubs don't suffer under the plans.
Brokenshire defended the tough proposals, which include doubling fines for underage sales and giving police, councils and residents more say.
"It is not our intention to target responsible businesses," he said. "Measures will provide communities with greater flexibility to focus on the small minority of irresponsible operators.
"The proposed changes should not be seen as part of a top-down approach to tackling alcohol-related harms by issuing directives from Whitehall, which perhaps has been the hallmark of the past. Our aim is to enable, not mandate."
Meanwhile, Brokenshire said the problem of parents supplying children with alcohol "needs to be examined" and is "certainly something that's on my agenda".
More details of the Government's plans will be revealed with the publication of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, expected next month.
British Beer & Pub Association chief executive Brigid Simmonds told the conference that Brokenshire "is supportive" of the industry, adding: "I hope that some of the arguments that are put forward will be reflected when we see the Bill."
Video: James Brokenshire's speech at RDR 2010