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UK Politics

Councils demand cash to fight binge drinking

Taxpayers will be left out of pocket if most of the funds go to the police, say town hall chiefs

Local authorities are entitled to a greater share of a new £18m levy designed to force pubs and clubs to pay for the social cost of late-night opening, council leaders claim.

The cost of running services such as taxi marshals and street wardens to help to make Britain's booze-soaked city and town centres safer in the early hours will not be met if the share of the proposed "late-night levy" remains capped at 30 per cent, according to the Local Government Association (LGA).

A Home Office consultation on the new payment, which will cost bars and nightspots up to £4,440 per year and is one of a number of measures unveiled by the Government to curb Britain's binge-drinking culture, ends today ahead of the finalisation of details and its inclusion in legislation.

The levy, whose application will be left to the discretion of individual councils, will be paid by businesses that sell alcohol or benefit from its sale at any time between midnight and 6am. According to Home Office figures, it will raise between £13.5m and £18.2m, which ministers want to split 70:30 between police and councils.

It is predicted that up to a quarter of the 42,000 pubs and bars licensed to open between those hours under laws originally designed to introduce European-style "café culture" to Britain will revert to the traditional 11pm closing time rather than pay the fee.

But town hall leaders argue that without greater autonomy in deciding how to share the levy, council-tax payers will be left out of pocket and want the decision on how to divide the income to be made at the local level. They also complain that a blanket exemption granted to bed-and-breakfast accommodation, among other types of business, is inappropriate because of drink-related incidents at some seaside B&Bs.

Mehboob Khan, chairman of the LGA's Safer and Stronger Communities board, said: "The current plans for how the money can be used risks taxpayers still being left to pick up the bill because it fails to recognise the significant contribution made by local authorities."

Under current proposals, it is estimated that each local authority will receive up to £54,000 while police will be paid up to £120,000 per force, enough to pay for 4,000 hours of police-constable time. The Association of Chief Police Officers has welcomed the change, saying it will provide badly needed funding for policing drink-related antisocial behaviour.

Representatives of landlords complain that the levy is a tax on town-centre pubs and bars which threatens to stifle partnership schemes such as Pubwatch, which shares intelligence on troublemakers and potential problems between publicans and the authorities.