Alcohol and pub industry bodies have slammed the government's late night levy on the pub sector and urged councils and police to consider partnership schemes as a "more effective" alternative.
In a report released today, the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) and the British Beer and Pub Association (BBPA) criticised the scheme's low take-up rates and the high charges small pubs and businesses could face as a result of the levy.
The levy, which allows local councils to charge more for late night licences to pay for additional policing, was introduced as a discretionary power through the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011.
There are currently just seven levies in place across England, and none in Wales. In practice, some local authorities have backed away from the scheme due to partnership working being a more effective option, and the high potential cost of administering a levy for minimal financial gain.
Under the scheme, many pubs will face an extra cost of more than £750 per year, which Camra and the BBPA argue will have a disproportionate impact on small community businesses, which may only open later at weekends or on certain days of the year yet are still viable for the levy.
"This new research report shows that introducing a late night levy is really a direct tax on local businesses that damages effective partnership working between the trade and other stakeholders. We are working with local authorities and police to find better ways of promoting a safe and vibrant night-time economy," Brigid Simmonds, BBPA chief executive, said.
Instead, the two bodies urge a partnership approach, such as through the establishment of local Pubwatches, Business Improvement Districts and the Best Bar None Scheme (which promotes responsible operation and management of alcohol licensed businesses).
Tim Page, chief executive of Camra, added: "Community pubs that provide essential services to their customers will be those that are hit hardest by a Late Night Levy. With pub closure rates being an ongoing concern for Camra members, it is essential that Government and Councils do everything possible to support pubs that are so vital to communities, rather than placing a financial burden on them."
The government has faced criticism for a number of its pub-focused regulations in recent months.
In March, industry bodies were quick to criticise the appointment of Paul Newby as the first Pubs Code Adjudicator – a new arbitrator between pub tenants and pub landlords – due to conflicts of interest with Newby's previous employment.
Despite charges relating to the late night levy, English pubs will save £39m annually from small business levies announced in the 2016 Budget.
The measures, which will come into force in April 2017, will see 81 per cent of pubs benefiting from either the small business multiplier, or Small Business Rate Relief, or both, according to the BBPA.