Sunday, June 20, 2010

Law and Disorder

Home Secretary Theresa May is reportedly planning to introduce a 'law and order levy' on pubs which want to open after 11pm.

This is not something I would support. May is attempting to deal with a flawed licensing system with the wrong solution.

Labour's changes to the licensing laws came as a welcome modernisation. Our out-dated "closing times" had to be done away with. Unlike the Daily Mail rent-a-reaction, I did not foresee rivers of booze and blood flowing down the High Streets of England. Coupled with the new powers given to Local Authorities to deal with troublesome pubs and clubs, Labour seemed to get things right on this.

Unfortunately, in the enthusiasm to introduce 24hr licenses - and remember, very few pubs or clubs actually do open 24hrs - Labour assumed an instant change to a continental drinking culture. Not so, of course, as there would have been the necessary introduction of 'purchasing quotas' and a statutory watered-down ale limit to facilitate that sort of change. Britain took to license liberalisation with (mostly) maturity and (some) over-enthusiasm. Hence May looking at this new 'night-time tax".

Pubs are struggling to stay open as it is. The smoking ban and cheap supermarket prices have eaten into the pub market share. Now add the change in social behaviour - is "going to the local boozer" such a part of every day life among the young or those on middle incomes? - to see why the publican does not always have a happy lot.

This "law and order levy" would be an unfair tax on publicans. Local authorities, in this time of economic constraint, would not shy from asking all pubs to put money into a "policing pot". Cash-strapped independent or small holdings would go to the wall; "brand name" pubs would take the hit. Which is more likely to have reason to call out the cops - The Red Lion or a Scream pub on the edge of a student village?

Councils are able to order additional restrictions on licenses, and the extended opening hours policy is a genie not likely to fit back into its bottle. Together publicans, police and Councils should be able to continue working towards tackling what disorder exists without an additional financial burden on tax-payers (generally) or publicans (specifically).