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Bar and nightclub owners vow to oppose controversial late-night levy
FURIOUS bar owners have vowed to fight controversial moves to hit Southampton’s late-night venues with thousands of pounds of new charges.
Police and civic chiefs believe they can rake in £200,000 per year from pubs and clubs that operate into the early hours – helping to pay for the cost of drunken revellers and the job of cleaning up after them.
But now there are fears that the fees – of up to £4,440 per venue – could “cripple” smaller bars, while some landlords say they are being unfairly blamed for drunkenness and antisocial behaviour on Friday and Saturday nights.
The move comes just weeks after a Daily Echo investigation revealed that cheap deals, including drinks for 80p and two-for-one offers, were available in venues that claim to promote responsible drinking.
Residents’ groups have welcomed the charges, claiming it will make city centre nightspots safer and drive down antisocial behaviour in their neighbourhoods.
Under the plans, police would use 70 per cent of the funds to help bolster their resources. Southampton City Council would use the rest to pay for the likes of taxi rank marshals and the ICE Bus, which helps people in need on Saturday nights.
But Richard Gilbert, who owns the late-night venue Cafe Parfait, in Above Bar Street, said: “The late-night levy could really affect our business margins. It could even cripple smaller businesses. It is an extremely nasty levy, especially with pubs and clubs struggling due to the recession.
"My main issue is how the council will decide how much each club pays.”
Michael Andrews, treasurer of Licensing Link, which represents licence-holders in the Pub Watch scheme in Southampton city centre, said he would be among those fighting the scheme.
The 55-year-old, who runs Kelly’s in London Road, said: “It’s not a good idea. It’s very one-sided that just pubs and clubs have to pay.
"We keep taxis running, kebab shops open and we’re being hit again.
“If it goes ahead, it will just be another tax. It is not a thriving marketplace – people like to go out and have fun, but we have to pay.
“If it comes in, struggling pubs will have to find money from somewhere, and that will come from wages or jobs. I will be fighting it.”
Guy Benfield, of the Talking Heads live music venue, in Portswood Road, called the idea “unjust”.
“It’s just another tax – another expense,” he told the Daily Echo.
“As we are open past a certain time, we already have door staff and other measures which cost money. If it’s brought in, I may have to look at ways of saving money.
“It’s just not necessary – we are not even in the centre of town. We may even have to look at putting up our prices. It’s unjust. We pay high rent rates as it is.”
Another Southampton bar owner, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We are getting it from all directions. From police, the planners – everywhere.
“It’s pre-drinking which is the real problem. People can buy drinks at supermarkets cheaper than we can sell them.
“I bet the supermarkets won’t have to pay for extra police though, will they?
“We need help out there. Do the council really want a night-time economy?”
The city is not the first to explore the option, with York, Plymouth, Newcastle and Cheltenham among other councils considering taking advantage of new powers under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.
York is expecting to raise up to £286,000 from the charge, while between £80,000 and £150,000 could be raised through similar levies in Plymouth.
Council leader Simon Letts said the scheme could net about £200,000 per year in the city, with all the revenue going directly towards dealing with the night-time economy at a time when police and council budgets are being slashed.
He said extra funding would help spread police resources across the city during busy Friday and Saturday nights, while 581 violent crimes had been reported in the city centre in just 12 months.
“A lot of this is fuelled by alcohol,” he said. “There is a significant cost to the public and it is not unreasonable to ask for a contribution.
“There will be objections and claims of an additional tax, but somebody somewhere is making good money out of the night-time economy.”
The matter is due to be discussed at a council meeting in November before it goes out for consultation.
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