The consultation period for Southampton’s controversial late-night levy proposal closes Thursday, July 31st. The City Council is open for comments on the tax from all residents, license holders, and bar patrons until this date. Despite the stated intentions of the City Council, many venue owners, staff, and patrons have not been fully informed about the extent of the law, and the impact it will have on Southampton night life.
The Levy, if enacted, would be a new tax on all premises and clubs serving alcohol past midnight with a few exceptions for theatres, bingo halls, and boarding houses. The amount collected varies from £299 to £4440 annually, depending on the ‘Rateable Value Band’ of the establishment. This valuation is largely dependant on the size and location of the venue, rather than on income, and the tax would be likely be a heavier burden on those holding fewer events.
The Southampton City Council estimates that the levy would raise approximately £225,000 pounds annually, with 70% going to the constabulary force budget. The council’s Consultation Document cites taxi marshals, late-night patrols, and public toilets as budget items that could help the city better manage late-night revellers. However, it also notes the city’s general “need for revenue,” as a reason the levy would be desirable, and that the city faces a projected budget shortfall of £54.7m for 2016/17.
The Consultation Document does not take into account any collateral effects on other revenue streams, such as the loss of competitiveness of Southampton establishments to neighbouring councils, or less competitive venues closing. It would have a “massive impact on the bar,” predicted Ryan Keary, director of Dirty Box Promotions, “in theory, it’s a great idea, but in practise – disaster.” He went on to say that the added costs might force event organisers to re-think which acts they could book to be more mindful of costs.
The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act of 2011 gave local licensing authorities the power to enact a late night levy, with Newcastle introducing the first in November 2013. Newcastle also included a ‘Best Practise Scheme‘ for which participating venues would receive a 30% discount for implementing safety, noise reduction, and crime prevention measures, though no such scheme has been proposed for Southampton.
The levy, if passed, would begin February 1st, 2015, with license holders allowed a period to apply to change their hours of operation and close by midnight, avoiding the new tax. This in itself may pose problems for the city, as many exiting patrons would fill the streets at midnight. Currently, licenses are staggered so that venues tend to close at roughly half-hour intervals.
Some found it unfair that the burden of nighttime drinking was being placed solely on license holders. “I do understand it, but if they’re going to tax the bars, they’ve got to tax the off-license as well,” said 90 Degrees director Dave Walker. “If people are drinking at home, drinking on the street, they’re not being looked after … we have duty of care here.”
While the city council’s Consultation Document states that letters had been sent to all license holders, none of the bar staff contacted cited the city council as informative on the matter, with most people getting their information from an online petition circulated by Cafe Parfait owner Rich Gilbert.
In the end, it will be bar customers that bear the cost of the new tax, in higher drinks prices and entry fees. However, many venue staff feel that this move by the city council unfairly places all the burden on local pubs and clubs, and that the responsibilty for a safe night out in Southampton is something that should be shared by all.
Photo credit: Liam Simmons Photography.