NEWCASTLE City Council looks set to become the first city in England to impose a late night levy on it’s pubs, shops and clubs.
At a meeting of the Labour-run authority’s cabinet last night councillors agreed in principle to start charging businesses a fee of up to £4,400 a year if they want to sell alcohol between midnight and 6am.
Though the decision must now be passed by a meeting of the full council on July 3 it is expected to be rubber stamped and come into force on November 1 2013.
Speaking ahead of the meeting Councillor Linda Hobson, deputy cabinet member for community safety and regulation, said that while the a Newcastle night out has a worldwide reputation and makes an invaluable contribution to the city’s prosperity it also has less welcome consequences – noise, crime, anti-social behaviour and negative health impacts.
“These proposals, which will be delivered in partnership with the police, licensing trade and residents, seek to strike the right balance by ensuring those businesses which benefit should make a limited contribution to these costs, maintaining the city as one of the safest in the country and attractive to investors and visitors.”
Every year around 19.2m people visit Newcastle and Gateshead spending approximately £346m on food, drink and entertainment, supporting 7,000 jobs.
One of the reason for the council’s plans is that it says businesses serving alcohol should pay more towards the cost of providing services like taxi marshalling, CCTV, street pastors, street cleaning and increased toilet facilities.
Assuming the policy is waved through in a week’s time landlords face a levy, based on the rateable value of the premises and ranges from £299 to £4,400 per year, or in daily terms from 82p to £12.16 per day.
But bar and pub bosses hit out at the plans, with a joint statement from company heads including the Head of Steam’s Tony Brookes and Harry Costigan of Leopold Leisure – owner of pubs including The Hotspur – telling the council that the introduction of any levy risks “causing financial harm to many (pubs and clubs), most of whom have seen their turnover and profitability decline year-on-year as the supermarkets take continually-increasing shares of the drinks market.”
“There is already a levy of 1% of the rateable value of NTE operators to fund (city centre marketing agency) NE1, which many do not think is justified.
“By adding the charge for the late night levy another substantial burden would be introduced.
“Most modest pubs have rateable values over £87,000 and they would have to pay £2,370 more. And with low profit margins this could be dangerous to a pub’s financial viability.”
The bar firms said a late night levy will see the council “bite the hand that feeds them” – effectively introducing a “stealth tax” on operators, while providing them no benefits, and line the pockets of the authority and Northumbria Police for doing a job they already do.