Late-night levy and EMROs: Council consultations

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Licensing authorities The police

Late-night levy and EMROs: Council consultations
The skies are a little darker over some parts of England this week, and I hope that these ominous clouds are not a portent for a more widespread storm.

I am talking about certain licensing authorities having started the process, or engaged in so–called ‘pre-consultation’ for early-morning restriction orders (EMROs) or the late-night levy. Readers of the PMA will be well aware of both by now — the former is a power for licensing authorities to prohibit alcohol sales between midnight and 6am, the latter an optional additional tax on premises selling alcohol between the same hours.

The authority can choose whatever period it likes between this window: for example, 2am until 6am. So far as the levy goes there are several discretionary exemptions.

It is only since 31 October 2012 that licensing authorities have had these powers — powers that could have a significant effect on late-night bars, pubs and nightclubs, and in some cases close them. Here is a snapshot of what some councils are considering at the time of writing:
■ Blackpool — considering an EMRO from 3am.
■ Hartlepool — initiated the consultation process for an EMRO, commencing at 2am.
■ Islington (north London) — as you may have read in the PMA, councillors were considering a levy but until they receive a commitment from City Hall in London that the police’s 70% will be used for policing the night-time economy in Islington, and not the wider London area, they will not proceed.
■ Milton Keynes (Buckinghamshire) — the police have requested a levy from 1am to 6am. A decision whether to proceed will be made this month. In Milton Keynes, the police have made an explicit commitment to use their portion on the late-night economy.  
■ Newcastle-upon-Tyne — consulting on a levy between midnight and 6am.
■ Northampton and Norwich are both considering an EMRO.
■ Plymouth — pre-consultation on both a levy and an EMRO taking place with the police (by pre-consulting, I mean the licensing authority is taking informal views from stakeholders and, as there is no statutory list, this could be just police in some cases, although often it is local night-time businesses as well).

Level playing field
These are some examples that have come to our attention at the time of writing — admittedly a small proportion of the overall number of licensing authorities, but there may well be more. Each authority is different and where they are considering using one of these powers they are approaching the issue in slightly different ways.

Indeed, there are many licensing authorities that have considered both options and have no intention of proceeding with either, acknowledging that they could harm the late-night economy and have a knock-on effect during the day.

We know of one authority that now prefers to work with the trade through the establishment of a business improvement district (BID), and surely a pre-cursor to any levy or EMRO must be a thorough analysis of whether schemes like Best Bar None or BIDs aren’t more appropriate?

Late-night operators themselves may have differing views. It is fair to say that some (not all) only want a level playing field in terms of hours, having seen the late-night economy creep later and later since 2005 — an EMRO may assist with that. Similarly, a levy may in certain cases push badly-run premises that exist on the edge of viability over it, leaving only responsible operators with sensible business models and good working practices.

But in many cases this will not be the situation. The EMRO is a Draconian ‘last-resort’ tool. Doorstaff, previously employed between midnight and 4am, may not want or be able to work only from, say, midnight until 2am.

What about the dispersal issues of everyone piling out at the same time, or the possibility of wholesale displacement of customers to the nearest late-night-friendly town? And 70% of the money raised by a levy (the police’s portion) could be spent on paperclips, solving none of the issues for which the levy is purportedly raised. The other 30% will almost certainly be spent on measures that have already been tried —taxi marshals, street pastors, street cleaning etc — but there is no reason why changing the method of funding should change the outcome.

And in few of these consultations do I see an acknowledgement of the wider causes of binge drinking and pre-loading.

One thing is certain, however — if one or both these measures is proposed in your area, it is likely to affect you. Make your voice heard, contact your trade body or email us. Talk to your competitors. You can still make a difference.

Related topics Licensing law

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