Changes to the Policing and Crime Bill would allow for the late-night levy to be restricted geographically, enable police and crime commissioners to request a levy consultation and require local authorities to publish information on how levy-raised funds are spent. It would also put cumulative impact policies (CIP) on a statutory footing.
Industry leaders have slammed the potential changes to the ‘punitive’ charge on pubs.
Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “These amendments shift the legislation further away from the Government’s stance in its original guidance – that the late-night levy should only be a last resort when other options have been exhausted.
"These new measures would introduce a degree of transparency, but this sort of punitive measure could quickly become the first port of call for local authorities.”
Both the ALMR and British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) have long been against the levy, which charges pubs operating between 12pm and 6am to fund policing.
Both industry bodies agree changes could make it "easier" for councils to impose a levy. Under the proposed scheme, an authority could hone in on a particular part of town for a levy.
Nicholls continued: “The levy may not have the intended effect of addressing any alcohol-related concerns but will impose a significant financial burden on pubs and bars and restrict investment and growth.
“These amendments – like the CIPs in 2004 – have been introduced at the 11th hour, with no detailed public consultation. They could significantly extend the tax on businesses, and ignore the principle that regulators should have regard to economic growth.”
The BBPA and ALMR argue partnership schemes, such as a business improvement district, could be a more effective solution for local authorities.
Cheltenham Council is in the process of scrapping a levy for such a scheme.
BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds said: “We are against the flexibility that is being proposed. Local authorities need to think carefully about how a late-night levy could affect a vibrant night-time economy.”
The amendments are due to be debated by the House of Lords at the committee stage.
“Widening the tax to late-night refreshment is to be welcomed, but since it is based on rateable value, the on-trade is likely to bear the greatest burden,” Simmonds said.
Cumulative impact policies
The changes would also put CIPs on a statutory footing, which Simmonds said should be "judged by evidence".
“It is important that each application for a new licence, or variation of a licence, is considered on its own merit.
“It is important to note that CIPs were originally devised as a temporary policy while the underlying causes of any local issues were addressed – and they should be considered in this context.”
Adulterating the process
The ALMR’s Nicholls argued that CIPs have only succeeded in adulterating the planning process, while ignoring the context of licence applications.
“All CIPs over a decade old need to be reviewed to ensure they are still valid. The Government has missed an opportunity to amend legislation of CIPs to ensure they remain suitable and relevant,” she said.
“We need a clear legal commitment that the levy will only be pursued as a matter of last resort and that councils will support local businesses, have regard to growth and act impartially and fairly.
“We are disappointed that the Government has missed an opportunity to make the legislation fit for purpose by introducing evidence and hearing requirements that will support growth in their areas.”