Newcastle's late-night levy decision stinks of short-termism

By Mike Berry

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Councillor George osborne Newcastle city council

Berry: "To me, this move stinks of short-termism with no real consideration of the pressures licensees are under"
Berry: "To me, this move stinks of short-termism with no real consideration of the pressures licensees are under"
It was only a matter of time. Newcastle City Council has become the first local authority to cross the Rubicon and introduce a late-night levy (LNL) — an additional tax that could have a significant impact on late-night bars, pubs and nightclubs in the city and, in some cases, might even shut them down.

Councils across England have been considering their options when it comes to putting in place LNLs, alongside the equally troublesome and pernicious early-morning restriction orders (EMROs). The levy is an annual fee that councils can collect from premises authorised to sell alcohol after midnight, with 70% going to the police and 30% to the council.

City councillors rightly recognise the vibrancy and vitality of Newcastle’s night-time economy — anyone who has experienced the delights of a Saturday night down the Bigg Market can testify to that — but also point to the less welcome consequences of the late-night scene — noise, crime and anti-social behaviour.

In justifying its decision, the council falls back on the worst kind of management-speak, with talk of the proposals being “delivered in partnership” with the licensed trade, and “striking the right balance”.

“The objective is not to restrict the extent of the late-night economy, but to ensure a contribution towards the costs of it,” it states.


The council insists the money generated will help manage the night-time economy and reduce alcohol-related crime and disorder in the city centre. But only a maximum of 30% of the total pot will go towards that goal.

The 70% of the money raised (the police’s portion) could be spent on paperclips or pens, solving none of the issues for which the levy is purportedly raised. And even if the remaining 30% is spent on measures that have been tried before, such as taxi marshals and street pastors, there is no reason to think that changing the method of funding should change the outcome.

And what about the signal this gives to other councils considering their own levy — will they follow Newcastle’s direction like sheep? It’s my guess we will now see a spate of authorities going down this route, emboldened by developments in the north-east.

To me, this wrong-headed move stinks of short-termism with no real consideration of the pressures licensees are under, especially multiple operators facing hefty bills from having to pay the levy, and it risks damaging city-centre investment in the long-term.

The decision should be placed in the context of the wider economic climate for councils. Last week Chancellor George Osborne announced further deep cuts to local government budgets on top of those already in place.

With funding being slashed from the Government, councils have to find new revenue streams on top of making efficiency savings. A LNL conveniently ticks the box.

Writing for the PMA in March, Jonathan Smith, managing partner at licensing firm Poppleston Allen, warned of a coming storm in the form of these prohibitive new powers. Well, the storm has hit and it’s time to batten down the hatches.

Related topics Licensing law

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