TRADERS have condemned plans that could see late night drinking venues across Oxford charged for selling alcohol after midnight.
Next month local authorities will be given the choice of adopting a city-wide “late night levy”, that charges pubs, nightclubs, bars and restaurants that serve alcohol between midnight and 6am.
Traders have condemned the idea as a “disgrace”, branding it as yet another tax for struggling businesses in the middle of a recession.
But it has received backing from local people concerned about the effect the late night economy has on their lives.
The Government is introducing the idea so taxpayers don’t foot as much of the bill for dealing with drinking related problems.
The majority of the money raised by the charge would go to the police, to combat anti-social behaviour.
The late night levy is included in the Government’s Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. The act states that, if adopted by local authorities, the charge would be based on the rateable value of the premises and the type of business it was running, starting from £299 for the lowest band to £4,440 for the highest.
Money raised through the scheme would be shared out, with police receiving at least 70 per cent of the revenue, and councils allowed to keep around 30 per cent as the licensing authorities.
Participation in the scheme would be optional for councils, but Green councillor Craig Simmons has urged Oxford City Council to take up the policy.
He said: “It’s not a large amount of money and it has to be spent in areas where there are problems. That’s something I hope we can get cross-party support for.”
Divinity Road resident Elizabeth Mills has led campaigns over noise problems in the area on previous occasions, and has also welcomed the idea of a late night levy.
She said: “In principle I think it’s an extremely good idea. I think the police should have a bigger presence in the city at night, and if this helps that then it can only be a good thing.”
City board member for crime and community safety Dee Sinclair wouldn’t rule out introducing the scheme. But she said she didn’t want to raise hopes about how money raised could be spent.
She said: “I wouldn’t rule it out, but it’s very early days. I think we’re going to get an update on this in October.
“I think we have to be very cautious about anything coming from central government at the moment, and we just need to look at the detail.”
The idea has been criticised by pub landlords in Oxford, including James Knox, from The Duke’s Cut in Park End Street. Under the proposals, he would have to pay £768 per year extra, a price he claims landlords cannot afford to pay.
He said: “I think it’s a disgrace. We pay business rates and we struggle as it is in this industry. The last thing we need is another tax.”
Oxford City Council spokesman Louisa Dean said: “The late night levy is currently being considered by central government and regulations have been published.
“However, all licensing authorities are awaiting guidance from central government in order to investigate this matter further.
“Once the guidance is published, the licensing and gambling acts committee would need to consider whether it was appropriate for Oxford based on evidence supplied to the authority.”
A Thames Valley Police spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment until the policy was adopted locally.
The levy is designed so that larger venues, like the 02 Academy in Cowley Road, would pay significantly more than smaller premises such as Hi-Lo in Cowley Road.
A multiplier is applied to premises that that primarily or exclusively sell alcohol for consumption on the premises.