More than 400 licensed premises face paying a late-night levy in the centre of Brighton. The levy could raise more than £400,000 a year which would be used to fund safety measures and initiatives to reduce crime.
Any plan is unlikely to be debated formally until September at the earliest although a spokesman for the pub trade vowed to fight what he described as a “truly woeful idea”.
Chief Inspector Katy Woolford visited Newcastle – the first place in the country to being in a late-night levy – to see how it worked.
She told Brighton and Hove City Council’s Licensing Committee: “The night-time economy in Brighton is renowned as being vibrant and full of an abundance of venues to visit.
“On any weekend the clubs can hold in excess of 30,000 people and it’s estimated that eight million people visit the city every year.
“The footprint of the night-time economy has expanded considerably since the licensing law changed and now runs till 6am to 7am.
“While celebrating the success of the city’s night-time economy, there is a negative side which puts a strain on many of the emergency services in relation to alcohol-related harm and increased vulnerability.
“To keep people safe, there are many provisions and services which minimise these risks, all of which require funding.
“In this era of fiscal restraint, funding these services and provision is becoming increasingly challenging.
“The introduction of a late-night levy would ensure that licensed premises who wish to stay open beyond a specified time pay a contribution to keep the city safe for those who come to enjoy it.”
A spokesman for the Brighton and Hove Licensees Association, Nick Griffin, who is also the managing director the Pleisure pub company, said: “It’s a truly woeful idea.
“It will destroy Brighton and the good things about it. It will destroy businesses and people’s livelihoods.
“This is a really emotive issue among publicans. It will be fought by the trade.
“We pay huge business rates already and as publicans we pay for the police twice because we pay business rates and council tax on the same building.
“Why should publicans pay more because the government isn’t giving enough money to the police! They’ll struggle. We are risking the goose that lays the golden egg for Brighton.”
He said that the evidence showed that crime and disorder was falling and that a late-night levy would mean more pubs closed earlier to try to avoid having to pay it.
As a result more people would go to fewer late-night venues in a greater concentration of numbers, making trouble more likely – not less so.
Chief Inspector Woolford, who runs the Operations Team in Brighton, said that small venues could pay £5.75 a week – or £300 a year. Bigger premises such as the Pryzm night club in West Street were likely to pay £84.61 – or £4,400 a year.
With a cut-off time of 1am, the measure could raise more than £400,000 a year from up to 420 premises. Sussex Police would receive 70 per cent and the council would get the rest.
Some venues would reduce their hours to avoid having to pay, if the experience of Newcastle was replicated. Chief Inspector Woolford said that no businesses there had closed as a result of the levy.
She said that in Brighton crimes were committed over a longer stretch of the night and morning since the licensing laws had been relaxed. This meant extra policing costs.
She said: “We believe it is right that businesses which profit by selling alcohol in the night-time economy should contribute towards these costs rather than relying on other taxpayers in the community to bear the full costs.
“The impact of alcohol in Brighton and Hove is considerable. Although alcohol supports the night-time economy and tourism, people can be a victim of alcohol-linked crime and disorder such as violence, sexual offences and abuse, criminal damage, late-night noise and other anti-social behaviour.”
While Newcastle has brought in late-night levies, Milton Keynes, Plymouth, Thameside, Weymouth and Woking all rejected similar proposals. Liverpool has suspended its plans to bring in a levy while it reviews the evidence from Newcastle. And a scheme is being considered in Camden and York.
Licensing Committee member Councillor Jeane Lepper said: “There are many views about this. This council may well have a view which may well not chime in with the police.”
A similar proposal was previously rejected.