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News - 15 September 2010

Councils could get powers to impose minimum pricing and late night levy

Home Office minister James Brokenshire has given the clearest indication yet that councils could get powers to impose minimum pricing on alcohol locally via bylaws.

Brokenshire also vowed to take an “evidence-based” approach to overhauling licensing and defended the consultation process.

The Government is proposing new powers to let councils revoke and introduce bylaws without the requirement for permission from central government.

In theory, this could be used to ban sales of alcohol below a set price to curb cheap deals, in particular at supermarkets. Authorities in Greater Manchester are already examining this idea.

Brokenshire said: “I’m sceptical about applying minimum pricing nationally. It’s about local communities. If local circumstances point in that direction, that’s something local authorities might wish to explore.”

The Government is consulting on banning below-cost alcohol sales, with several options on the table, including defining cost as duty+VAT and factoring in production costs. “I recognise it’s a complex issue so we want to ensure we get this right,” said Brokenshire.

“We are looking at all these options very carefully. We’ve not reached a conclusion at this point in time.”

The minister defended the decision to consult on its licensing plans for just six weeks. “I would have loved to have done it for longer, but we’re constrained by a number of issues in terms of taking into account the Parliamentary time table.”

He said there’s been “informal consultation” since June, and the late-night levy had been discussed as far back as last autumn’s Conservative Party conference. 

“There have been discussions around this for quite some time. I would be surprised if this was seen as coming out of the blue.”

He said response levels to the consultation, which closed on 8 September, had been “very good”, though final numbers aren’t known.

When asked whether the late-night levy would apply to responsible operators, Brokenshire hinted that he favoured the proposed exemptions for venues that embraced best practice such as membership of Business Crime Reduction Partnerships, Best Bar None or those in Business Improvement Districts [BIDs] or Community Alcohol Partnerships.

“I’ve seen all of these in action and know the good work being undertaken,” he said. Brokenshire stressed that the Government won’t mandate to councils that they must apply the levy — and if “good schemes” are already operating the council is free not to do so.

Brokenshire said licensing “sits more neatly” with the Home Office, which took control of it from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport in July, because of the licensing objectives that include protection from harm.

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