CONTROVERSIAL plans to introduce a late-night levy for pubs and clubs in Cheltenham have caused a stir among the town's licencees.
Under proposals drawn up by borough council officers, venues could be forced to pay up to £4,400 a year if they want to stay open beyond midnight.
The money would be used to pay for the council to clean up the streets and to provide extra police resources to deal with booze-related disorder.
We talk to club and pub staff who would be affected by the move.
INTRODUCING a late-night levy might sound like a good idea – but there could be repurcissions for pubs and clubs.
Under the proposals, made possible by a change in Government regulations in October, councils will be able to impose a fee on businesses profiting from the night-time economy.
After a number of drunken assaults in the town and large numbers of revellers ending up in A&E departments after an alcohol-fuelled evening, Cheltenham Borough Council decided to look at imposing a fee on pubs and clubs open after midnight.
The money, which would be calculated on the rateable value of the premises, would be split between the borough council and Gloucestershire Constabulary.
Under the proposals, 30 per cent would be given to Cheltenham Borough Council to use for crime reduction and in cleaning up after drinkers.
The remaining 70 per cent would go to the police, to be spent on getting officers out on the streets.
But those who would have to pay the levy are concerned about how the loss of earnings might affect their business.
After the Echo reported that both the Hop Pole in Gloucester Road and the Fox and Hounds in Prestbury Road had closed in difficult times, other pubs have voiced concerns about how they might struggle to balance the books with yet another levy placed upon them.
Bentley's Bar, in the High Street, would be one of the venues affected by the levy as it opens until 3am every day.
Manager Angela Whitefield said: "It's a lot of money to pay on top of what we already pay, including business rates.
"I don't think it would be fair to charge a venue like ours the same amount as you would for a nightclub, where people are doing three-for-one offers and that kind of thing.
"Our clientele aren't the kind of people who go out there causing trouble on the streets, so it seems disproportionate if we pay as much as some of the other clubs which target a different audience.
"We already pay for security staff on the door past 11pm and so, in terms of controlling, our own area we already do our bit.
"It seems to me the venues who are going to find it difficult to afford this tax are the smaller ones – and not necessarily the ones which are causing the majority of the problems."
She added that the step would encourage a move back to the time before 24-hour drinking laws were brought in.
"They brought in 24-hour drinking to stop people rushing to drink a lot in a short space of time," she added.
"If this comes in, it will be going back to how it was before with more – more venues will close earlier so people will have to drink in a shorter space of time."
Alan Meaden, landlord of the Suffolk Arms pub, said the levy would bring problems of its own.
"You would get more pubs shutting at midnight to avoid the levy – so you'd get a flood of people heading into the town centre who have already had a lot to drink all at the same time," he said.
Borough councilors are set to discuss the scheme later this year – possibly as soon as April.