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Southwark moves towards levy on post-midnight alcohol sales

Plans to impose a Late Night Levy on Southwark venues that sell alcohol after midnight have moved a step closer as the borough's licensing committee agreed to recommend the measure to next month's full council meeting.

The Late Night Levy – ranging from 5.75 per week for the smallest businesses to 85.38 for large nightclubs – would be used to fund the work of Southwark's night time economy team made up of police and council officers who deal with incidents and complaints arising from licensed premises.

We reported in February that the council was launching a public consultation on a potential Late Night Levy and this week the results of that process were presented to councillors.

Southwark's licensing committee agreed on Tuesday night to recommend to next month's council assembly meeting that a Late Night Levy be introduced from September this year.

"There clearly is a problem with the late-night drinking culture and we need to do what we can to make people safe," said Cllr Adele Morris (Lib Dem, Borough & Bankside).

Cllr Margy Newens (Labour, Dulwich Village) welcomed the levy as she felt that her part of the borough was being short-changed: "We are frequently being left without police cover because our police are pulled into the north of the borough," she said.

But Cllr Barrie Hargrove (Labour, Peckham) felt unable to support the levy because it would penalise well-run venues: "The good ones are having to pay because of the bad ones. How is that fair?"

He felt that the legislation allowing the council to introduce the levy was "a blunt instrument".

Southwark's business improvement districts (BIDs) – where firms already pay an extra levy on business rates – have been vocal in opposing the measure.

Contrary to initial indications, the council is not intending to offer BID levy payers a discount or exemption to the Late Night Levy.

Henry Johnstone of Team London Bridge addressed Tuesday night's meeting to argue that his organisation already funds extra policing in the London Bridge area and carries out a range of training and communication activities that serve to prevent late-night nuisance.

Kate Nicholls, chief executive of industry group UKHospitality, said: "It's doubly disappointing that a borough that has seen its regeneration boosted by hospitality businesses is looking to heap costs on venues that have made Southwark popular.

"It is a complete misstep from the council and we urge them to abandon the idea of a levy. Otherwise, businesses will only struggle and the thriving night life that been built up over many years will be under serious threat."

Keith Knowles, chief executive of Beds and Bars – whose venues include Belushi's and St Christopher's Inn in Borough High Street – said: "Southwark's night time economy is the best in London and its venues are fantastic local assets.

"Another additional cost via a Late Night Levy would put it all at risk. It's a death by a thousand cuts, and would suggest a lack of understanding of the value of hospitality venues."

A final decision on whether to impose a Late Night Levy will be made by Southwark's 63 councillors at council assembly on Wednesday 17 July.

Vauxhall MP Kate Hoey has urged Lambeth Council to consider a similar levy to deal with the extra costs of policing and regulating that borough's late night economy.

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