With a view to a special tax on licensed premises, the Home Secretary Charles Clarke has asked chief constables to give him detailed advice on the problems that they anticipate when 24 hour drinking is introduced in November
He met with representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) twice in the last week to discuss the possibility of imposing a special levy on bars and clubs to finance extra policing in city centres. Despite the fact that he has not committed the government to the idea the drinks industry has taken fright at the activity of MPs like John Denham – Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee – who is pushing the idea of a special levy as a means of “making the polluter pay”. The British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) reacted angrily to the idea insisting that the industry already contributes over £20bn in taxes.
The Home Office formulated proposals for a special tax in 2002 but they were put on hold after objections by the Culture Department. The idea resurfaced in 2003 in response to public concern at the prospect of the reform of the licensing laws and in 2004 the Prime Minister made it clear that pubs and bars could be made to pay a levy if they did not come up with a voluntary arrangement. Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) may offer an opportunity for the industry to work together where there is a cluster of licensed premises in a clearly defined geographical area like West Street in Brighton or the lower esplanade.
As the relaxation of licensing laws draws closer the issue of policing hotspots gains more public attention. Part of the problem rests with the uncertainty about what, if any, problems the reform will entail. The BBPA has surveyed half of the total number of pubs in the UK and has not found any that intend to open all night. Even nightclubs, which might be expected to embrace the idea more willingly, are unlikely to stay open for 24 hours. There is considerable scepticism in the industry about whether it is a commercially viable proposition for most operators. There will be no increase in disposable income (indeed it is declining – see story “Retailers nned to batten down the Hatches” 10th November 2004) so there is limited opportunity to make large increases in turnover but the increased overheads attached to 24 hour opening could be considerable.
It is more likely that late night bars and clubs will take advantage of the law to extend their closing times later into the night but still more or less all close at the same time. Under these circumstances the much hoped for reduction in anti-social behaviour associated with the late night economy may not materialise. In the meantime the police have to prepare for any eventuality until the pattern of trade is established which could take up to 2 years.
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