Consulting on the introduction of levies in September and October 2019 respectively, Southwark and Redbridge councils would join only 10 councils to date – half of which are London boroughs such as Hackney and Tower Hamlets – if they choose to adopt late-night levies.
According to Southwark Borough Council’s website, the cost of funding a night economy team of police and council officers to deal with crime, antisocial behaviour, litter and people in need of support as a result of the night-time economy costs around £280,000 per year.
The council has explained that a late-night levy is the “fairest way” to pay for this, with any addition funds from a late-night levy pledged to other initiatives creating a safer night-time environment.
Moreover, Redbridge council’s consultation document explains: “Indication through local police crime reports and complaints shows a clear correlation between the locations of late-night licensed premises and incidents involving crime and disorder, including antisocial behaviour and public nuisance.”
New levies would apply to all businesses selling alcohol between midnight and 6am and could cost businesses between £5 and £85 per week depending on a business’s size and the rateable value of its premises.
The consultations by Southwark and Redbridge borough councils – which both closed last week – follow recommendations made by the London Night Time Commission, appointed by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, which claimed London needs to have an “active 24-hour licensing regime”.
Referring to a House of Lords committee report on the Licensing Act 2003 that found late-night levies “failed to achieve [their] objectives and should be abolished”, UKH chief executive Kate Nicholls described Southwark council’s consultation on a late-night levies as a “complete misstep”.
“It is incredibly disappointing to see another local authority entertain the idea of a late-night levy,” Nicholls explained after submitting a response to Southwark’s consultation. “The levy has been thoroughly dismissed as a credible option by the House of Lords Committee.
“It has been denounced by the House of Lords report and labelled unfit for purpose. It runs completely counter to both the Mayor of London’s vision of a 24-hour city and Southwark Borough Council’s attempts to promote investment.
“It’s doubly disappointing that a borough that has seen its regeneration boosted by hospitality businesses is looking to heap costs on venues that have made Southwark popular.
“It is a complete misstep from the council and we urge them to abandon the idea of a levy. Otherwise, businesses will only struggle and the thriving nightlife that been built up over many years will be under serious threat.”
Nail in the coffin
According to the BBPA, local businesses in Southwark and Redbridge are already “disproportionately burdened” with the beer and pub sector already pays £58.6m in tax in Southwark and £16.5m in Redbridge.
“Introducing a late-night levy is a backward step for any local authority,” according to BBPA chief executive Brigid Simmonds.
“The current late-night levy framework does not work effectively in addressing local late-night alcohol-related issues. It is a tax and unfair to well-run and responsible businesses such as pubs – many of which are SMEs already struggling to get by.
“A late-night levy will be a nail in the coffin for some community pubs.
“When business rates are the basis for the calculation, premises like pubs will pay a disproportionate share.
“Both Southwark and Redbridge should look at working in partnership with their late-night sector, not taxing them out of existence.”
Death by a thousand cuts
Keith Knowles, CEO of Beds and Bars – which operates four sites in Southwark – added: “A late-night levy will disastrous for hospitality venues.
“We have invested £11m in the past four years in London – £8m of which has been in Southwark. In that time, we have seen a 47% increase in the Government take of our profits, through a myriad of operating costs and taxes.
“Southwark’s night-time economy is the best in London and its venues are fantastic local assets.
“Another additional cost via a late-night levy would put it all at risk. It’s a death by a thousand cuts and would suggest a lack of understanding of the value of hospitality venues.”