Under a scheme drawn up earlier this year licenced premises everywhere in Leeds would have had to pay up to £4,440 a year if they wanted to sell alcohol between 00.30 and 6am.
But now a report from a Leeds City Council committee that has been looking into the issue says the imposition of such a tax – know as the “late night levy” – is a “blunt instrument” and “inherently unfair”.
The report says that the idea should be dropped and effort put in to strengthening existing schemes like Pub Watch and the street and taxi marshals that are funded voluntarily by licencees.
It also suggests that the council do what it can to help local businesses set up what is known as a Business Improvement District in the city centre, which could focus on the night-time economy.
The inquiry findings are going to be discussed at a meeting of the council’s decision-making executive board next Wednesday (18th December). The recommendation from council officers is that the findings be accepted.
“Poorly thought out”
The likely shelving of the idea was quickly welcomed by the Leeds-based North group, who have six bars and pubs in and around the city.
Operations manager Matt Gorecki told the leeds citizen the plan was “poorly thought out and we don’t see how it would tackle problem drinking whatsoever”.
He said problems on the streets of Leeds were caused by excessive drinking, fuelled by pre-loading on cheap alcohol bought at supermarkets.
“It’s exacerbated by irresponsible operators chasing sales, offering cheap and low quality alcoholic drinks and having poorly trained staff who serve people who have already had enough to drink.
“If the council want to prevent problems in town they should look at these two root causes first and foremost,” he said.
“Existing legislation on pubs and bars is more than adequate and should be applied in venues who are allowing people to get over intoxicated. More should be done to stop supermarkets and discount shops offering cheap loss leader deals and thus encouraging people to pre-load on drinks before they go out.”
He said well run pubs and bars provide safe and supervised environments for people to drink alcohol and have fun in. “They are a key part of our society and blaming them or imposing punitive measures is missing the cause of the problem entirely.”
The “bar tax” isn’t off the cards forever, though.
“Should a city centre business improvement district not be progressed, or if existing voluntary initiatives are not further developed and enhanced, Members (councillors) may wish to re-consider the issue of a Late Night Levy at some time in the future,” says the council officers’ recommendation.
The committee’s inquiry report said over half the money raised from the suggested tax would come from bars outside the city centre, but most of the cash would most likely be spent on policing in the city centre. Bars in areas like Otley wouldn’t see any return for their extra expense.
“We remain to be convinced that the income generated will be used to the benefit of all payers,” the report said. “Members (councillors) from all political groups stated this would be a very difficult message to deliver within their respective wards.”