Chiefs demand late-night drinking levy to meet policing costs

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Senior ministers are to hold crisis talks next week over demands by police chiefs for a levy to pay for policing high streets after the introduction of flexible drinking hours.

Senior ministers are to hold crisis talks next week over demands by police chiefs for a levy to pay for policing high streets after the introduction of flexible drinking hours.

Charges by local authorities for processing and enforcing the applications for late-night drinking licences are to be announced by the Department of Culture next week. But they will not include the cost of policing any increase in bad behaviour caused by longer drinking hours.

Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, is backing police demands for an additional levy to be imposed on pubs, clubs and other places which could obtain 24-hour drinking licences.

But Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, has told Mr Clarke it would be "rough justice" to charge 130,000 outlets for problems raised by only around 3,000 "super-pubs" and late-night clubs.

Richard Caborn, the Sports minister, said yesterday that the Department of Culture was considering a voluntary levy on the drinks industry. That was dismissed as unworkable by the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) which met Mr Clarke on Thursday to demand more resources for policing longer drinking hours. An Acpo spokesman, Commander Chris Allison of the Metropolitan Police, said: "We support the principle of the polluter pays. The drinks industry is encouraging people to pour alcohol down people's necks."

The Culture Secretary is adamant that there can be no retreat over the proposal to allow longer drinking hours. The Government wants to encourage a Continental-style drinking culture, but critics, including chief constables and some Labour backbenchers, fear it will lead to more binge drinking and street violence.

Referring to a Daily Mail campaign against the liberalisation of drinking laws, Ms Jowell has told cabinet colleagues: "We cannot allow the Daily Mail to run the Government. We have to make a stand on this."

She has told allies that she was put on the defensive over the plan to liberalise casinos last year because the newspaper's campaign reached a climax at Westminster when she at the bedside of her dying brother in New York. Having been bruised by that experience, Ms Jowell has secured Downing Street's backing to resist calls for the plans to be shelved.

The level of fees which the local authorities can charge is also likely to provoke more unrest. The Local Government Association is ready to protest that the fees are not high enough to cover the full cost of processing the licences.

All but a handful of local authorities said they would have to raise more money from council tax payers. Metropolitan Police chiefs warned that the fees, which are being levied on rateable values, will lead to glaring anomalies in London.

One senior Met officer said the Royal Albert Hall could face a licence fee running into thousands of pounds but clubs could see their fees reduced to £500. "I don't have problems policing the Royal Albert Hall, but I do expect to have more problems with the clubs," said the officer.

Officials at the Department of Culture said local authorities should take into account whether they can afford to police clubs and pubs before approving their licences. "If they cannot afford the policing, they should not approve the licences," said one of Ms Jowell's officials.

The department is also insisting that more flexible drinking laws will avoid all the pubs in a city or town shutting at the same time, which - they claim - will help reduceviolence caused by crowds spilling out of pubs at the same time.

Acpo representatives will give evidence on Tuesday to the home affairs inquiry on antisocial and will warn the new drinking laws could make their task much harder.

ATHENS 11pm and most people have yet to go out

Eleven o'clock on a Friday night and Gazaki, a popular bar in an up-and-coming Athens area is half empty. At the same time that Londoners are forced to gulp down their last orders, most Athenians haven't even left home for a night out.

Athens is an insanely late night city where even local bars do not shut before the early hours. There are next to no licensing restrictions. "As long as we have customers, we stay open," explains Kostis Alexopoulos, co-owner of the Ninemia bar, located in a residential district.

It was not always the case. In the mid-Nineties, the government tightened regulations forcing bars and clubs to close at 2am. But the legislation was so unpopular it was abandoned just over a year later. Age limits for buying alcohol were simply never introduced. "Greeks have a healthy attitude towards drinking because they always had access to alcohol," says Alexandra Samara, a psychologist. "When as a 10-year-old you can walk into a supermarket and buy a case of vodka, drinking never becomes a big deal."

GLASGOW Relaxed hours ease bingeing

When pubs in England were calling last orders at 10.50pm on Thursday, drinkers at the Counting House bar in Glasgow had no intention of moving. Scotland, where the Licensing Act of 1976 extended hours and accepted Sunday opening, enjoys the most relaxed licensing laws in the UK.

Under present laws, and depending on the local authority interpretation, it is possible to have a drink almost anywhere between 11am and midnight, Monday to Saturday and from 12.30pm on a Sunday.

But binge drinkingis also an issue in Scotland. Health officials say more than 225,000 of the five million Scots have a drink problem, and alcohol is responsible for 40 per cent of violent crime and 88 per cent of criminal damage.

Christopher Hogarty, 23, a Counting House regular, believes Scotland's licensing system reduces the temptation to binge-drink. "I spent nine months in Oxfordshire," he said. "I saw more rowdy and drunken behaviour there when the pubs closed than I have ever seen in Glasgow. There's a lot of pressure, especially among groups of young lads, for each person to buy their share of drinks and when time is limited everybody drinks faster and that's when trouble starts."

The Scottish Parliament is expected to consider new licensing laws with further relaxation of opening hours but stricter controls on "happy hours" and drink promotions.

Paul Kelbie

MADRID Drink, but keep your dignity

The Bar Gonzalez is packed as midnight approaches. Lively professionals drink the wine for which the place is renowned, with platters of cheese, sausage, ham and exotic pâtés. The barmaid, Ane Dieguez, who spent three years working in London, said: "Spaniards know how to drink - slowly. There's no rush, no last orders. You can get a drink any time of the day or night, so you don't have to pile them in."

A couple scoop up their toddler and say goodbye. When the owner, Vicente Carmona, arrived at 1am, most drinkers had left. Vicente pours himself a whisky. "Here it's quite acceptable to drink, but very bad form to be drunk. We like to meet our friends and have a drink. There's no race to get drunk. It seems nonsensical to us."

Nearby is Yesterday, a laid-back cocktail lounge where you can drink until 3.30am. Nicole Brisette, an American who moved to Madrid years ago, says: "You can drink as long as you like, whenever you like so long as you keep your dignity. Once you stumble you are disgusting, repulsive, which no Spaniard wants to be."

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