Pub bosses say Newcastle City Council’s efforts to see less early morning drinking may backfire – and to prove it they’re going to open later.
The authority will in November become the first in the country to introduce a “late night levy” – a charge of between £299 and £4,400 on pubs and clubs opening after midnight, which it claims is to help pay for a range of things including policing and street cleaning.
But pub owners are aggrieved, with many feeling it is nothing but an extra tax to bring in revenue at a time the council has to make £100m in savings.
And in an apparent attempt to show the futility of the politicians attempts to have pubs close earlier, Head of Steam pub chain managing director Tony Brookes has now announced he plans to have one of his pubs – Tilley’s Bar on Westgate Road – open to the full extent of it’s license every day of the week.
“Newcastle City Council has adopted an iniquitous policy of charging all licensed premises in Newcastle city a Late Night Levy if their Premises Licence or Club Premises Certificate allows them to sell alcohol between midnight and 6.00 am,” he said. “And 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 licensed trade operators whose license allows them to trade after 12 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 JD Wetherspoon pubs.
“Many more pubs are hanging on by their economic fingernails. An extra £1,259 a year – and it can be a lot more, up to £4,400 – could push some pub operations 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.”
Tony said that while Tilleys Bar, next to the Tyne Theatre, currently closes at 11pm during the week and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, having considered the council’s offer of a free-of-charge variation to its licence to bring it back to midnight, it had instead been decided to “experiment” and open until 1am on Friday and Saturday and midnight Monday to Thursday.
Manager of Tilleys, Graham Frost, said the pub was already thinking of ways to increase its late night trade.
“We have been considering starting some late night activities, like cabaret, to help us maximise trade in a fiercely competitive market,” he said.
“The LNL looked to be stopping those plans in their tracks – but now we’re going for it in top gear.”
Elsewhere one of the firm’s managers has expressed anger at the way in which pubs outside the city centre are also being forced to pay.
Julian Ive, manager of the Cluny in Ouseburn , said it was unfair to make pubs pay when they see little in the way of trouble.
“The LNL is supposed to pay for policing of the night time economy – police, street wardens and so on,” he said. “But that is completely unfair on pubs like the Cluny and Cluny 2 in Ouseburn, under Byker Bridge, which never has any trouble and never sees a policeman or street warden – what even are they? – from one year to the next.”
According to police figures the whole of the Ouseburn area averaged just 5.5 crimes a month in the first six months of this year, and only a third of them were anti-social behaviour.
“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 the LNL is totally unfair,” he added.