Newcastle council has adopted an iniquitous policy of charging all licensed premises in Newcastle a late-night levy if their Premises Licence or Club Premises Certificate allows them to sell alcohol between midnight and 6.00am.
It is felt by many in the licensed trade that this is simply a local tax, as the council has to find about £100m in savings over the next three years. The pub and club trade is totally against the policy. It adds extra cost for zero benefit to all operators whose licence allows them to trade after midnight, even if they never actually trade then.
Our company has four licensed premises in Newcastle and three of them – the Cluny, The Head Of Steam and Tilleys Bar – will each be paying £1,259 a year extra – for nothing. The cost goes straight off any profit the pub may be making.
The public should not be lulled into thinking that such a ‘low’ amount would have no impact on the profitability of a pub. All the closed pubs you see around Newcastle have gone because they could not compete with the cheap prices offered by all the supermarkets and by Wetherspoon pubs. Many more pubs are hanging on by their economic fingernails.
An extra £1,259 a year – and the levy could be a lot more, up to £4,400 (although the lowest rate is £299) – could push some pubs over the financial edge. Then the public would have less choice of pubs and the council would get less income.
The council and police are hoping that the new late-night levy will encourage some pubs to bring their closing times back from the early hours to midnight, so that no levy would be chargeable. But it may work in reverse.
Pubs with after-midnight licences, which will have been hard fought for in earlier times, will not be varied lightly. A pub which usually closes at or before midnight but which has a licence to open later may now start to use its facility.
And so it is with one of our company’s pubs – Tilleys Bar, next to Tyne Theatre, just outside the city centre. The pub closes at 11.00pm during the week and midnight Friday and Saturday. We considered taking up the council’s offer of a free-of-charge variation to our licence to bring it back to midnight.
But, instead, we are going to experiment opening until 1.00am on Friday and Saturday and midnight Monday to Thursday. It will be interesting to see if we can generate extra trade to make it worthwhile.
The levy is supposed to pay for policing of the night time economy – police, street wardens and so on. But that is completely unfair on pubs like the Cluny which never has any trouble and never sees a policeman or street warden (what are they?) from one year to the next.
It’s just another cost burden to add to the Business Improvement District charge, business rates, rocketing power costs and everything else that keeps going up in price. Charging us a late-night levy is totally unfair.