Councils push for higher licence fees

By John Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Cost, Proposal, Money

Councils are pushing for higher licensing fees
Councils are pushing for higher licensing fees
Local councils are pushing for reform of alcohol licence fees in a way that could ratchet up costs for pubs. Town hall lobbyists say fees should...

Local councils are pushing for reform of alcohol licence fees in a way that could ratchet up costs for pubs.

Town hall lobbyists say fees should cover the licensing function costs of all responsible authorities - including police, fire service, health & safety and weights & measures - as well as the licensing authority itself.

This could see fees rise substantially, especially under Government plans to designate more groups, such as primary care trusts and health boards, responsible authorities in the future.

The Local Government Group (LGG) made the plea in evidence to the committee examining the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which includes the controversial plans to reform licensing.

The Government has said it wants to see fees based on "full cost recovery", although there was no mention of its plans in the Bill.

Cost-neutral

The LGG said the current licensing system has cost council tax payers £100m more than anticipated because councils can't set "cost-neutral local charges".

The Group said the "fully flexible locally-set licence fee" structure it suggests would be "simpler and fairer" than the proposed late night levy for pub operators — which was dismissed as "highly bureaucratic and administratively expensive".

The levy was also attacked last week by Richard Kemp, vice-chair of the Local Government Association, who told MPs that "if" a levy is going to be set, it should be set at a level that brings in "enough money to do something". "One thousand pounds for a property will not make a bad landlord behave better," he stressed.

The LGG said its proposal, which it hopes to have introduced via amendments to the Bill, would "be in line with localism principles allowing councils the power to set their fees and the freedom to distribute the funds as best suits the individual locality".

Astronomical

But Morning Advertiser legal editor Peter Coulson said: "The proposal could see licence fees set at astronomical rates if they are looking for full cost recovery for every single aspect of licensing."

British Beer & Pub Association director of pub and leisure said: "We have always said the fees should cover the administration of licensing and no more than that.

"Just as we have to become more effective in 2011, so do councils. They shouldn't just look to the industry to pay them out of a hole."

Inevitable

Licence fees have been frozen since the Licensing Act came into force in 2005 and Rawlings said a rise is "inevitable".

Elsewhere in its submission, the LGG questioned whether the proposal to double maximum fines for underage sales to £20,000 would be a deterrent - because magistrates have not to date handed out the current maximum fine.

The Group predicted that extending the duration of temporary events notices (TENs) from three to seven days "could result in more contentious, costly disputes between operators, the police, councils and the local community".

Related topics: Licensing law

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